Richard Hooker Essay

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Richard Hooker (1554–1600) was one of the preeminent Anglican theologians of the sixteenth century and is still considered one of the most influential expositors of the Anglican ecclesiastical, social, and political vision.

Born in 1554 in Exeter, England, Hooker attended Exeter Grammar School and entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1569, under the patronage of John Jewel, bishop of Salisbury. Hooker completed his BA degree in 1574 and his MA in 1577. In 1579, he took holy orders as a deacon in the Church of England and was appointed deputy professor of Hebrew at Oxford. Hooker left Oxford to become rector of St. Mary’s church, Drayton Beauchamp, in 1584, and master of Temple Church, London, the following year. Temple Church was an influential London parish attended by many of the nation’s political elite, and it was at Temple that Hooker engaged in his noted controversy with his Puritan assistant (and cousin), Walter Travers. The Temple years were unique ones, with Hooker delivering morning sermons defending the Anglican via media (middle way) between Puritanism and Roman Catholicism, and Travers taking the afternoon lecture and forcefully defending the Puritan call for further reformation. Nonetheless, Hooker and Travers remained on good terms personally; their differences led Hooker to begin work on his magnum opus, the six-volume Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the first four books of which were published in 1594.

Hooker married Joan Churchman, daughter of a leading London merchant, in 1588. In addition to his posts at St. Mary’s and Temple Church, Hooker served the church in a number of positions, including as sub dean of Salisbury Cathedral from 1591 to 1595 and rector of St. Mary’s Bishops Bourne from 1595 to 1600; during this tenure, he passed away on November 3, 1600.

Deeply influenced by the religious turmoil of Elizabethan England, Hooker sought to articulate Anglicanism as a middle ground between Catholicism and Puritanism or Presbyterianism. On the one hand, Hooker, like all Protestants, decried the many medieval corruptions that he saw in the Catholic Church of his day, and he justified the break with Rome in terms of the search for a more faithful approximation of the primitive Christian Church. On the other hand, Hooker dissented from the view of English Puritans, generally referred to as the party of Geneva, or party of Calvin, who denounced the English Church for its failure to completely purge all “Romish” ceremonies and insisted that church government must not include any aspect not explicitly laid out in scripture. Hooker considered such a belief too restrictive, overlooking the fact that God had made humans both rational and social creatures and that thus reason and custom, considered alongside scripture, represented legitimate sources of knowledge about church polity.

Most political theorists are aware that English philosopher John Locke quotes Hooker more than a dozen times in his 1690 work, Second Treatise of Government. Hooker’s influence on English social, political, and religious thought was profound, and he is generally listed alongside Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury and adviser to King Henry VIII, as being responsible for the enduring power of Anglicanism as a comprehensive and inclusive body of thought.

Bibliography:

  1. Hooker, Richard. The Folger Library Edition of the Works of Richard Hooker. Edited by W. Speed Hill. 7 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1977–1998.
  2. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. 7th ed. Edited by John Keble. 3 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1887.
  3. Faulkner, Robert K. Richard Hooker and the Politics of a Christian England. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.
  4. Secor, Philip B. Richard Hooker: Prophet of Anglicanism. Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1999.

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