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Hooker, Richard (1554–1600) - BIOGRAPHY, CRITICAL RECEPTION

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Richard Hooker, Christian humanist and apologist for the Church of England, was born in or near Exeter in early April 1554. Although his great-grandfather and grandfather had served as mayors of Exeter, his family was of modest means. Of his early childhood little is known. Most of the biographical information available is from Isaak Walton’s pious and biased biography first published in 1665, which must be read with caution. Subsequent scholarship has either corroborated or corrected information in Walton’s book. Based on contemporary documents, Hooker’s father, Roger, was an absentee parent. From October 1562 to April 1565, Roger Hooker was in Spain serving as a steward to the ambassador Sir Thomas Chaloner. Several years later, he served as Sir Peter Carew’s steward at Leighlin, Ireland, and died in Ireland in 1591. Hooker’s uncle John Hooker became a kind of surrogate parent and benefactor. After completing grammar school in Exeter, where Hooker enjoyed the reputation of being an excellent student, he entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford, probably in the fall of 1569. He received the B.A. degree in January 1574 and the M.A. on 29 March 1577. Corpus Christi College’s curriculum stressed the study of Greek, rhetoric, and early church fathers, subjects that Hooker mastered, as evidenced in his sermons and in the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity . One of Hooker’s probable tutors was John Rainolds. Rainolds, a fellow of the college and reader in Greek, was an ardent supporter of Calvinism and the Puritan cause. Probably, it was under his influence that Hooker became familiar with the works of Calvin* and other Continental Reformers. While at Corpus Christi, Hooker became tutor to Edwin Sandys, son of Edwin Sandys, bishop of London (later archbishop of York), and George Cranmer, a great-nephew of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.* Both of these young men became lifelong friends and advocates of Hooker. In July 1579, his reputation for learning, especially his command of biblical languages, resulted in his appointment as deputy professor of Hebrew, due to the illness of Regius Professor Thomas Kingsmill. On 14 August of that same year, he was ordained a deacon by John Aylmer, bishop of London. There appears to be no documentary evidence of his ordination to priesthood, but references to his celebration of the Communion service in the Temple Church would confirm Walton’s statement that he was a priest. In spite of his scholarly reputation and position as a fellow of the college, Hooker, John Rainolds, and three others were expelled from Corpus Christi in October 1580 but were reinstated early in the following month. In the fall of 1584, he was appointed vicar of St. Mary’s Drayton-Beauchamp. By early December 1584, Hooker was living in London at the home of John Churchman, a wealthy merchant, where he met his future wife, Joan, Churchman’s daughter.

The year 1585 brought an event that played a major role in the future direction of Hooker’s life. The tranquil life of a scholar came to end on 17 March with Hooker’s formal appointment by the queen as master of the Temple Church. In the political and religious climate of the times, the choice of a master who supported the established church was imperative, since the congregation was made up of the students of the law schools called the Inner and Middle Temples. In 1581, Walter Travers, a fervent Puritan who had been ordained abroad by Protestant ministers rather than by a bishop of the established church, had been appointed assistant to Richard Alvey, master of Temple Church. Upon Alvey’s death, William Cecil advocated Traver’s candidacy for the master’s post. Archbishop Whitgift, however, opposed Traver’s appointment and suggested Dr. Bond, one of the queen’s chaplains, whom she rejected. Edwin Sandys, now the archbishop of York, suggested Hooker. Travers remained as assistant and preached the afternoon sermon. Trouble between the two men began almost immediately. Before delivering his first sermon, Hooker was asked by Travers to submit to congregational ratification. Hooker refused. Shortly thereafter, Hooker preached a series of sermons on salvation and justification. Travers quickly attacked the sermons as heretical. Initially, the theological controversy between the two men was conducted privately. However, during an afternoon sermon, Travers openly attacked Hooker’s ideas, for which he was quickly silenced by Archbishop Whitgift. In response, Travers wrote a pamphlet entitled A Supplication Made to the Privy Council , in which he outlined Hooker’s errors. Hooker replied by writing to Whitgift The Answer of Mr. Hooker to a Supplication Preferred by Mr. Walter Travers . This dispute was the probable catalyst for the writing of the Laws . Although he did not enjoy great popularity as a preacher, Hooker remained master of Temple Church until 1591. During this ministry, he married Joan Churchman on 13 February 1588 in the parish church of St. Augustine. He had six children, four daughters and two sons, both of whom died in infancy.

On 21 June 1591 he was made subdean of Salisbury and rector of Boscombe. It is doubtful, however, that he spent any time at Boscombe, but rather continued to live with his in-laws while he worked on the Laws . On 7 January 1595 he was presented the living of Bishopbourne by the queen. Unlike his appointment to Boscombe, Hooker resided in the rectory and dutifully carried out his pastoral duties while preparing the publication of Book V of the Laws .

Hooker died on 2 November 1600, and was buried in the chancel of the church at Bishopbourne. As remembered by his contemporaries, he was a humble, modest, and learned man. His spirit of charity and pleasant disposition attracted loyal friends and the patronage of important ecclesiastical and political figures of his day.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Criticism of Hooker’s work, especially Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity , emanates from a wide area of academic interests. Political scientists have examined his ideas on government as well as his theory of law. Earlier critics, as Cargill Thompson points out, considered Hooker one of the greatest political thinkers of the sixteenth century (3). However, recent scholarship has modified that superlative by placing Hooker within his own historical context and challenging the conventional view of Hooker as “the forerunner of Locke and one of the originators of the doctrine of the social contract” (Thompson, 6). Trying to put Hooker in his proper place in the history of political thought is made more difficult because Hooker’s evolutionary process preceding the writing of the Laws is not known. This lacuna, Hill asserts, “accounts for the ambiguity of his position even today and for the uncertainty with which recent scholarship has viewed the significance of this work” (“The Evolution,” 117).

Although the Laws was intended as a defense of the Elizabethan church settlement, it is also a source for theological study. Marshall asserts that the Laws “is one of the most brilliant expositions of the character of Christianity to be found in the whole history of thought…an organic scheme of both theology and philosophy” (“Hooker’s Doctrine of God,” 81). Hooker’s ecclesiology with its apparent contradiction vis-à-vis the episcopacy is also the object of scholarly inquiry. Sommerville gives an excellent overview of the scholarly debate regarding Hooker’s position on the office of bishop and concludes that “Hooker adopted and applied a subtle distinction between scriptural recommendation of a form of church government and its immutable prescription. It was this distinction which made Books II and VII of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity compatible” (187). Critics also examine the sources of Hooker’s theology. Studies have discussed his indebtedness to medieval theologians, particularly St. Thomas Aquinas, and to John Calvin. As for Hooker’s earlier grounding in Calvinist thought, Grislis wryly observes that “Hooker’s Calvinistic roots have been proclaimed with rather more enthusiasm than investigation” (161). Within the context of the received tradition of Hooker’s respect for Calvin, Hooker’s attempt to both praise and criticize the Puritans’s icon in the Laws is achieved, according to Avis, by treating “Calvin’s doctrine on its merits as a human construction and Calvin himself as a great but fallible human being” (27). Hooker’s method of scriptural interpretation, particularly its countering his opponents’ demands for sola scriptura , has received favorable critical attention from scholars. Grislis notes that “although he [Hooker] wrote no commentaries on the Scripture…he interpreted Scripture with notable skill” (183). Although Hooker’s role in the development of Anglican theology has been discussed, Booty states that “there is, admittedly, very much that remains to be done in tracing Hooker’s relationship to and influence upon Anglicanism as it developed and was transformed in the seventeenth century and beyond” (204).

Although Hooker’s claim to fame in English literature rests upon his prose style, Brian Vickers observes that “there are surprisingly few studies of his writing” (41). More than a decade after Vickers’ essay, Archer adds the judgment that “analyses of Hooker’s style to date have been limited, though valuable, and much work remains to be done” (118). A recent search of the MLA Bibliography —1981 through 2 February 1995—for articles on Hooker’s prose style confirms Vickers’ and Archer’s observation. All scholars have noted the principal characteristic of Hooker’s prose, namely, long and hypotactic sentences. Hooker does use shorter sentences, even parataxis, when, according to Edelen, he wants “to enunciate the axioms of his philosophical system …to emphasize the logical force of his reasoning” (243). Modern readers may find his Ciceronian periods tiresome, if not boring, but in view of the apologetic purpose of the Laws , Edelen argues that “the period is a natural vehicle for the mind that insists that no conclusion can be validly reached prior to a discursive and open-minded examination of all the relevant premises, causes, evidence, arguments, distinctions or effects” (257). For Steuber, Hooker’s use of the compound/complex sentence “reflects the universal and teleological design of the hierarchy of being and laws” (819). Breaking ranks with the critics who tend to view Hooker’s prose within the context of the author’s traditional image— due in no small part to Isaac Walton’s biography—as a mild-mannered, ironic, scholarly clergyman, Vickers emphasizes Hooker’s “emotional energy” (44) when dealing with his adversaries by pointing out stylistic devices such as “to summarize, or quote from their verbose writings and to follow with a sharp question or a challenging comment” (44). Another technique Vickers cites is Hooker’s ability to have the text read “like a transcript of a trial, for Hooker also invents notional answers by the defendants which are either parodied internally or subjected to sarcasm” (44). Hooker’s use of imagery, metaphor, and rhetorical devices is also grist for the stylistic critic’s mill. Of special interest to the student of Shakespeare is Cohen’s thesis that “Shakespeare’s acquaintance with this treatise ( Laws ) is markedly apparent in Richard II and the ensuing Henry plays” (181). Teachers of Shakespeare will find Young’s technique for teaching King Lear an interesting pedagogical strategy: he places passages from the Laws “alongside passages from Lear , with the aim of helping students to become aware of ideas, attitudes, and thematic patterns the works have in common. At the same time, I point to differences in the treatment the writers give to similar themes” (98).

Hooker scholars in all disciplines now have, with the completion of The Folger Library Edition of the Works of Richard Hooker , not only an excellent critical text but also an important source of information concerning the publication history of the Laws , the provenance of manuscripts, the debates regarding the authenticity and content of Books VI–VIII, Hooker’s sources, and the discovery of three incomplete sermons originally thought to be those of Archbishop Ussher.

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about 3 years ago

Good but there are no refereces?