Richard Hooker, a father of Anglicanism

Richard Hooker was an English priest who died in 1600, and we remember him today as a theologian who defended the Church of England and its choice of “the middle way” between Roman Catholic and Puritan ideologies.

Hooker entered Oxford University in 1567 and for eighteen years devoted himself to scholarship and reflection on the subtle points of theology. He became deputy professor of Hebrew, was ordained to the priesthood, and appeared to be set on a purely academic career. But his learning, moderation, and commitment to the Church of England brought him to the attention of the authorities, and he was appointed Master of the Temple, an office of great prestige because it made him the chief preacher to the legal community of London. He held this post for six years, then resigned to become the rector of a parish near Salisbury. A few years later he moved to a rectory in the diocese of Canterbury, where he died at the age of forty-six.

He was a quiet man, loving to his wife and children, glad in his piety, and happy in his ministry.

But the Church remembers him primarily for the one great work that he wrote — a majestic study entitled Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. It was published in 8 volumes though the final 3 were published posthumously. It was addressed to a group of English protestants who were nicknamed Puritans because they sought to purify the Church of England according to their own narrow reading of the Bible. Against this movement Hooker argued for a more liberal outlook, which coordinated the testimony of Scripture, the course of Christian history, and the values of human reason, in order to defend the English Church as a communion for all the people, not just a small group of “saints.” The experience of The Anglican Communion has confirmed his teaching, and today we honour his work as a true cornerstone of Anglican history.

(from: For All the Saints: Episcopal Church of Canada)

Richard Hooker has rightly been called  one of the Fathers of Anglicanism.
Our Church is deeply influenced by Hooker’s teaching that our authority as a church is founded on what has come to be known as a Three-Legged stool  of Scripture, Tradition and Reason.
Our knowledge of God and His purpose for  humanity and all creation is based on these three.

Scripture:  We seek to discover the word of God through reading the Bible. There are different understandings about the Bible’s authority in our lives. We need to use resources like different Bible translations, commentaries and Bible reading notes to help us understand this but Anglicanism has a deep  commitment to the authority of Scripture as God’s Holy Word to us.

Tradition:  We often hear talk of  Apostolic Succession which has been narrowed down to the Episcopal succession of Bishops, priests and deacons—the ‘order’ of the church’s ministry – but its wider application is that of handing on the teaching of the Apostles. From them the doctrine of the church passed on through  the early church to every generation since as teaching and doctrine which is added to and refined as our knowledge of God is deepened and enriched. This theological richness and diversity includes inspirational material like hymns, songs, prayers, poetry, Christian art and devotional books.There are also formally agreed teachings as found in the creeds and the ‘Liturgy’ – the orders of services such as Common Worship (Church of England) and the Book of Common Prayer, and their equivalents in the Scottish Episcopal Church, The Churches of Wales and Ireland and throughout the Anglican Communion. These are primary sources of our Theology. It is rightly said  that we believe what we pray. All true theology is rooted in prayer. The Orthodox Church puts it like this: A theologian is one whose prayer is true.

Reason:  We are called to love God with our minds as well as with our hearts. To the best of our ability we need to think things through in the light of reason. This means becoming aware of different points of view, and using our own critical thinking to make sense of God’s world. 

(an insight from the Methodist Church)

Hooker expressed these fundamental  tenets of Anglicanism in Volume 5 of his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. It became the essence of what is distinctive about Anglicanism. It became known as the Via Media,  The Middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and led to the Anglican church being known as as both Catholic & Reformed.

The Anglican balancing of the sources of authority has been criticized as clumsy or muddled. It is hard to live between two powerful and divergent views – Catholicism & Protestantism whilst seeking to incorporate the best of both.

Seeking the best means being willing to tolerate, comprehend and embrace opposing viewpoints and practices. This results in the Anglican Church having a wide inclusivity even though at times this could be disputed and lead to musunderstandings. At the heart however it is the importance of worshipping and praying together and a pursuit of what is described today as generous orthodoxy.

To Scripture, Tradition and Reason, we have recently added  Experience. This stresses the importance of our own experience of God’s grace working in our lives. We gain wisdom and maturity from life experience, especially when we pray and reflect about our story with other Christians not just within Anglicanism but Ecumenically and even through engagement with the secular world.

One thing that Anglicanism seeks to uphold is the Inclusivity mentioned above.
After all we are all One in Christ Jesus. We are all equal in the eyes and heart of God. We are all enlivened by the Holy Spirit. We are all held together in the corporate love of the Trinity. Anything narrower than that takes us, I would argue, away from God.

[GC | 3rd November 2020 ]

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