Blessed Richard Hooker

“To reform ourselves is not to sever ourselves from the Church we were before.”

Born in one of the most tumultuous eras of English history, Richard Hooker had a great deal of social and religious influence to train his growing identity. Hooker was born in 1553; only 20 years prior, Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church to establish his own Church of England. Then, within only a decade later, the arc of religious tolerance swung wildly to the Calvinist camp of faith practice. With the ascension of Mary Tudor in the early 1550s, religious focus was shattered and reformed to realign with the Roman Papacy. Hooker was born four years prior to Queen Elizabeth ascending the crown, and with her time came a balanced “middle way” of Anglicanism.

Hooker, born into poverty, had significant educational potential and distinguished himself above his schoolmates. In fact, he garnered a benefactor in John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury, gaining for himself a seat at the prestigious Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Hooker proved himself a great student with passion for learning and contributing to the companionship of his classmates that upon the passing of his beloved benefactor, he quickly regained a new patron.

Upon earning his Masters degree, marrying a strict Puritan lady, having six children, being ordained priest in 1579, and enduring a significantly contentious relationship with a colleague in the college, Hooker resigned his position and began writing the most significant work of his life: Ecclesiastical Polity. The first four books were published in 1594, the fifth was published in 1597, and books six through eight were published after his death on All Souls’ Day in 1600.

Queen Elizabeth, quite fond of Hooker’s work and life of passionate peace, appointed him to the parish of Bishopsbourne near Canterbury, and here he spent the rest of his days teaching and writing.

“There have been serious questions concerning the lat three books of Ecclesiastical Polity. About a month after Hooker’s death, Archbishop Whitgift sent a chaplain to inquire of Hooker’s widow about the three remaining books. She would not answer, but she called before the Archbishop of Lambeth, she testified that after her husband’s death ‘one Mr. Clarke and another minister that dwelt near Canterbury, came to her, and desired that they might go into her husband’s study, and took upon some of his writing: and that there they two burnt and tore many of them, assuring her that they were writing not fit to be seen.’ She died mysteriously the day after this testimony. Then Hooker’s close friend, Dr. John Spencer, found the original rough drafts for the last three books, and since he and Hooker had often discussed them, Spencer completed the books to the best of his ability using Hooker’s notes.”

Among Hooker’s reflections regarding theology and natural law, he argued against the Puritan doctrine of literal inerrancy and encouraged that Christian discipleship could be found in four additional resources: nature, human experience, traditions of significant Christian leadership, and human reason. His fervent belief in the Sacraments offered strength and hope to the Church: “The holy mysteries do instrumentally impact unto us, in true and real though mystical manner, the very Person of our Lord Himself, whole, perfect, and entire.”

Religious historian D. MacCleane has said of Hooker, “His master mind checked and turned the time of revolution [away from Puritanism]. And he rescued theological controversy from the gutter, inviting it with a solemn dignity, richness, and grandeur.”

*Stars in a Dark World: Stories of the Saints and Holy Days of the Liturgy by Fr. John-Julian, OJN

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