Skip to main content

Hooker, Richard (1553–1600)

HOOKER, RICHARD
(15531600)

Richard Hooker, the English theologian and social and political philosopher, was born at Heavitree, near Exeter. His family was poor but well connected, and in 1568 Bishop John Jewel secured for Hooker a clerk's place at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He became a fellow in 1577 and upon his marriage in 1581 was presented with the living of Drayton-Beauchamp and a few months later with the mastership of the Temple in London. At the Temple, Hooker came into violent conflict with William Travers, a Calvinist who lectured there in the evenings. Although Hooker always retained a high regard for Travers's intellect and integrity, he was forced by his own convictions to oppose the views of Travers. It was during this controversy that Hooker seems to have conceived the idea of writing a systematic treatise to uphold the establishment of church and state as represented by Queen Elizabeth's policies. In order to carry out this plan, he requested a transfer from the unquiet position in London to a country rectory. Thus he went to Boscombe near Salisbury, where he was able to write and complete the first four books of his projected treatise, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, by 1593 or 1594. In 1595 he was promoted to the rectory of Bishopsbourne near Canterbury, where he completed the fifth, purely theological part of his treatise by 1597. During the following three years he wrote another three books for the Laws, but he did not live to see them published. He died toward the end of 1600.

Hooker's Importance

Hooker was not an original thinker. His importance lies in the fact that he drew upon the various currents of medieval thought in order to explain the ecclesiastical and political institutions of Elizabethan England. Together with Francisco Suárez and Cardinal Robert Bellarmine he belonged to the first Counter-Reformation generation, and like the two Jesuits he elaborated the final implications of Aristotelianism and of Thomism in social and political philosophy. But unlike his two Jesuit contemporaries, he did not live in the orbit of the Roman Catholic revival. To both Suárez and Bellarmine the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the Erastian state were merely threats they had heard ofthreats from the outside. But Hooker was an Englishman who had grown up and lived through the turmoil occasioned by the attempt of radical Protestantism to force Queen Elizabeth from her conciliatory path. As a result he had to parry the practical attack of the extreme Protestant wing, and he finally came face to face with the secular state's opposition to that wing. This confrontation lends Hooker's thought an air of real drama; and if he was less systematic in his exposition than Suárez, his writings have the advantage of revealing a genuine intellect at work, wrestling with problems, not merely teaching what is imagined to be the truth.

The Source of Authority

Hooker's analysis of the Puritan attack on the Elizabethan settlement in church and state had revealed to him the essential similarity of that case with a line of argument that had a long and distinguished medieval ancestry and in some ways went back as far as St. Augustine. The attack the Puritans mounted against the Elizabethan settlement drew heavily on John Calvin and to a lesser extent on John Wyclyf, and was ultimately analogous to all those medieval arguments that had denied the validity of natural law and therefore of the justification of secular authority in terms of natural law. Lacking a justification in natural law, the secular state, if it was to have any legal and moral basis at all, had to be subject to divine authority. To medieval writers this divine authority was represented on Earth by the papacy; to the sixteenth-century Calvinists, it resided in the presbyteries of the godly and the elect. In order to combat the view that men have no natural reason with which to discover a natural law, and the view that any law discovered or made by men is incompatible with divine law, Hooker fell back upon the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. That philosophy had been developed during the thirteenth century to establish a doctrine of natural law and natural reason and to show how the rules thus discovered were fully compatible with those supernaturally revealed by God. The first book of Hooker's treatise is therefore a readable sixteenth-century compendium of Thomistic philosophy.

Natural and Revealed Law

Like St. Thomas, Hooker believed that man is by nature a social animal and that both the impulse to live in society and the need for some kind of government is inherent in human nature. Man is therefore created by God with the rational endowments necessary for the conduct of society and government. All social and political arrangements are hence subject to natural law, which is immutable. But since conditions of life vary from time to time and place to place, it is necessary to supplement the dictates of natural law with positive or "human" rules. All this was taken from Aristotle, but translated by both St. Thomas and Hooker into the context of Christian thought. Men desire not only to live, however, but also to live well. This further desire implies that they must find their ultimate happiness. Such ultimate happiness cannot be found in the attainment of a temporal, and therefore temporary, good, but only in the ultimate perfection that is God. Owing to the Fall, man cannot know by natural reason what he must do to obtain this final supernatural end. God has therefore revealed to man certain rules to supplement natural law. Hence it becomes clear that in order to achieve full human stature, man needs both natural law, for social and political purposes, and revealed law, for everlasting felicity. Revealed law is contained in the Bible and the traditions of the church. Natural law and revealed law are jointly, and not separately, the correct guide.

The "Lex Aeterna"

In order to establish his point that the two sets of laws must be brought into operation jointly, Hooker delved into cosmology. God, he wrote, is the author of everything. He is a law unto himself, and that law is the lex aeterna, which is both the source of all other law and itself manifested in all other laws. In the divinely revealed law, it is manifested directly, so to speak; in natural law, indirectly. For natural law is discovered by human reason, and human reason is created by God according to the lex aeterna ; therefore the dictates of natural law, and even the positive rules of human law, spring from the lex aeterna. God has given reason to every man. He has "illuminated" him. Although there is no explicit reference to St. Thomas in Hooker's text, this argument is a transcription of one of the central tenets of Thomism: signatum est super nos lumen vultus tui, domine ("the light of thy countenance is signed upon us, Lord"; Psalms 4:67). Hence we learn the will of God by using our reason.

Other Thomist Doctrines

Hooker identified himself with all the more salient doctrines of St. Thomas. He argued that God is pure act and that in him existence and essence coincide; that angels are immaterial and that they differ from all natural, not purely intellectual creatures in that they behold the face of God directly; that the soul is the form of man, and not a separate substance as St. Thomas's opponents had argued.

The will of man, Hooker wrote, is free. Everything good that reason sees as such has something unpleasant annexed to it. And everything evil that reason sees as such has something pleasant attached to it. For reason cannot see the absolutely good. Hence, although we always will the good, we can never will the absolutely good; as a result the will is always free to choose between several relative goods. Hooker believed that the two springs of human action are knowledge (reason) and will. The will always wills the good; and the good is apprehended by reason. Sin results from the imperfect operation of reason, which can never apprehend the absolutely good. Sin is therefore intimately linked with both the freedom of the will and the imperfection of reason. It is never committed as a positive action or desired for its own sake, but is the result of a loss. Evil, by implication, is a privation.

These subsidiary arguments were important to Hooker not only because they enable the reader to identify the main lines of Thomism but also because they help to lead to the goal of the main argument. To avoid evil, it is necessary to supplement the law of nature. And since the law of nature is embodied in secular government, the revealed law is embodied in the church. Thus Hooker arrived at his main objective, the proof that church and state are intimately connected.

Eecclesiastical and Secular Society

As long as the argument remained confined to a high level of generality, it was easy to take for granted that this philosophy amounted in fact to a defense of the Elizabethan establishment, in which church and state were closely identified. Such reforms as Henry VIII and Elizabeth introduced into the church never really severed the visible continuity of ecclesiastical institutions and of canon law in England. The Elizabethan settlement, like Henry's acts of law, had been made by Parliament; in a very general sense, Parliament appeared to Hooker not as a purely secular institution. The bishops were part of it; and the electors themselves, being members of the church as well as members of a secular society, could easily be deemed to constitute in fact an ecclesiastical polity.

Hooker was explicit on the importance to his argument of the identity of the people who were the church with the people who were the commonwealth. He admitted that in countries where no such identity could be presumed, the natural society (being hierarchically lower than the ecclesiastical society) could not be deemed capable of making laws for the church. But in England, he was confident, complete identity obtained.

Thus Hooker was able to establish his initial point that the Puritan attack upon the Elizabethan settlement and the Puritan demand for the establishment of presbyteries and congregations was based on a false estimate of human nature. For it assumed that there was no natural law to justify the existence of secular society and of secular government, that all authority would ultimately have to be vested in the congregations representing the godly and the elect who embodied the only law there was, the divine law.

Naturalism and anti-Platonism

When Hooker turned to writing about the more particular arrangements of the Elizabethan settlement, he had difficulty squaring his Thomist theory with political practice, which was Erastian and naturalistic in the extreme. In an attempt to do so he drew heavily upon the ideas of Marsilius of Padua, who had completely subjected the church to the state. Hooker had begun as a confident Thomist; with the discovery that Thomism did not suffice to account for the intricacies of late Tudor politics, he found himself in a tangle once he began drawing upon ideas from the naturalistic thought of Marsilius, which was completely incompatible with Thomism.

The crux of the tangle was Hooker's unflinching Aristotelianism, probably absorbed when he was a student at Oxford. It was his Aristotelianism that prompted the experiment of bringing together the two great Aristotelian strands, that of St. Thomas and that of Marsilius, and yoking them to the defense of the Tudor state as Tudor ecclesiastical polity. If Hooker had been more observant and less wedded to Aristotle, he would have found another growing tradition of thoughtPlatonismready to hand.

Basically, Hooker was a Christian humanist, tolerant and fairly latitudinarian in theology. In the fifth book, which was devoted entirely to theology, he went out of his way to provide theological formulations that embraced to the point of ambiguity all the most controversial issues of the sixteenth century, so that as many disputants as possible would feel at home in his ecclesiastical polity. He was convinced that man was not wholly depraved and that the judicious exercise of human reason was absolutely essential to a Christian life. He saw no great and insurmountable chasm between nature and the supernatural and held that the mark of the Divine Creator can be detected in every creature.

Christian humanism had in a way been the mainstay of medieval Thomism. But in the sixteenth century, with Marsilio Ficino and Desiderius Erasmus, it had severed its connections with Aristotle and had been poured instead into the mold of Plato. Hooker was not only completely unaware of this revolution in thought; he actually went out of his way to attack one of the most popular Platonist teachers of his day, Peter Ramus. It is true that Ramus's variety of Platonism was a vulgar one and that one cannot blame Hooker for taking up cudgels against him. But viewed in perspective, Hooker's stubborn Aristotelianism acquired an unnecessarily aggressive edge when it was led into the fray against the Ramists, who were conspicuously active at Cambridge at that time. Against their nimble handling of Ramus's theories of rhetoric, Hooker reiterated all the old stock in trade of Aristotelianism and thought that he had vanquished his opponents simply by his demonstration that they differed from Aristotle. In this respect Hooker showed himself to be much more medieval than one is led to expect from his high baroque prose style and his freely discursive and informal way of arguing.

Through his conviction that Aristotelianism was the only satisfactory vehicle of Christian humanism, Hooker weakened his own case. For it was this conviction that deprived him of the opportunity of becoming the link between the humanism of John Colet, Erasmus, and Thomas More at the beginning of the sixteenth century and the Platonism of the Cambridge Platonists of the early seventeenth century. Platonism was fashionable enough in the England of Hooker: Edmund Spenser, William Harvey, Roger Ascham, Sir Philip Sidney were all Platonists in one way or another. But their Platonism was purely literary and emotional. Hooker was perhaps the only Elizabethan who could have deepened it. His Aristotelianism kept him aloof from these currents of thought, and thus he missed the unique opportunity that his great learning and the lucidity of his thought afforded him: injecting systematic philosophy into the Platonist current.

Natural Law after Hooker

Although it may seem that Hooker's grand vindication of natural law helped to prepare the way for the revival of natural law in the seventeenth century, his arguments bear no relation to those of Hugo Grotius or of John Locke. To Hooker natural law was the dictate of reason; and reason was a discursive power of sensibility, capable of intuiting the good. It can therefore provide premises as well as help to draw out conclusions and dictate right conduct. To Grotius, on the other hand, the dictates of right reason were mere calculations of enlightened self-interest. In his theory of natural law, reason merely provided the long-term views necessary for survival, and natural law ceased to be identified with the rules set down, indirectly, by God. They were, on the contrary, made out to be completely independent of God.

See also Aristotelianism; Aristotle; Augustine, St.; Bellarmine, St. Robert; Calvin, John; Cambridge Platonists; Colet, John; Erasmus, Desiderius; Ficino, Marsilio; Grotius, Hugo; Harvey, William; Locke, John; Marsilius of Padua; More, Thomas; Natural Law; Plato; Ramus, Peter; Social and Political Philosophy; Suárez, Francisco; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Thomism; Wyclyf, John.

Bibliography

works by hooker

The best text for Hooker's works is J. Keble, ed., Works, 3 vols., in the 7th ed. reedited by R. W. Church and F. Paget (Oxford, 1888). The most easily accessible edition is that of The Folger Library Edition of the Works of Richard Hooker, 7 vols., edited by W. S. Hill (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 19771998). See also Book I, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, edited by R. W. Church (Oxford, 1882); Book V, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, edited by R. Bayne (London, 1902); Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity: Book VIII, edited with an introduction by R. A. Houk (New York, 1931); and Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, edited by Arthur McGrade (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

works on hooker

Allison, C. F. The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter. London: SPCK, 1966.

Atkinson, Nigel. Richard Hooker and the Authority of Scripture, Reason and Tradition: Reformed Theologian of the Church of England? Carlisle, U.K.: Paternoster Press, 1997.

Beiser, Frederick C. The Sovereignty of Reason: The Defense of Rationality in the Early English Enlightenment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Entréves, A. P. d'. The Medieval Contribution to Political Thought. London: Oxford University Press, 1939. Ch. 6.

Faulkner, Robert K. Richard Hooker and the Politics of a Christian England. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Hill, W. Speed, ed. Studies in Richard Hooker. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University, 1972.

Kirby, W. J. Torrance, ed. Richard Hooker and the English Reformation. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 2003.

McGrade, Arthur Stephen, ed. Richard Hooker and the Construction of Christian Community. Tempe, AZ: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1997.

Munz, Peter. The Place of Hooker in the History of Thought. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952.

Paget, Francis. Introduction to the Fifth Book of Hooker's Treatise of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899.

Secor, Philip B. Richard Hooker: Prophet of Anglicanism. Turnbridge Wells, U.K.: Burns and Oates, 1999.

Shirley, F. J. Richard Hooker and Contemporary Political Ideas. London: SPCK/Church Historical Society, 1949.

Sisson, C. J. The Judicious Marriage of Mr. Hooker and the Birth of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1940.

Peter Munz (1967)

Bibliography updated by Philip Reed (2005)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hooker, Richard (1553–1600)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hooker, Richard (1553–1600)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 20, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hooker-richard-1553-1600

"Hooker, Richard (1553–1600)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Retrieved November 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hooker-richard-1553-1600

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.