Feast of Richard Hooker (November 3)   Leave a comment

Richard Hooker

Anglican Priest and Theologian; died in 1600

He gave us the “Three-Legged Stool,” or scripture, tradition, and reason.

From the New Zealand Anglicans:

Richard Hooker is one of the outstanding theologians of the Anglican Church. In the late sixteenth century he was a great apologist for the Elizabethan Settlement and the development of the Church of England. He was born in Heavitree, Exeter, about 1554. He showed promise at school. Through the influence of John Jewel, bishop of Salisbury, he was admitted in 1567 to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, first as a chorister, then as a clerk. He went on to become a scholar and in 1577 fellow of the college.

After ordination and marriage, Hooker became rector of Drayton Beauchamp and in 1585 master of the Temple. It was here that he entered into public debate with the well-known Puritan, Walter Travers. Hooker came to be noted by the authorities as a champion of the established church, and he was made rector of Boscombe in 1591. He finally became rector of Bishopsbourne near Canterbury in 1595 and died there in 1600.

In the wake of his controversy with Travers, Hooker wrote his Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the first five books of which were published in his lifetime. The last three books were published much later and cannot be reliably attributed to Hooker in their published form. In the first five books Hooker presents a reasoned defence of the Elizabethan Church of England and the Book of Common Prayer.

The defence is presented with an air of calm detachment. The Puritan recourse to Scripture for all rules and laws governing the church took the form that what was not commanded in Scripture was forbidden. Hooker argued for the dependence of Scripture itself and its interpretation on the more fundamental laws of reason and nature planted by God in creation. It is on this basis that the laws of the state and the church must be established, with the addition of scriptural revelation, tradition, reason itself and experience. So Hooker was able to show that the Church of England is justified in maintaining its continuity with the medieval church, but is also reformed, and is not bound to look solely to Scripture for sanctions for its beliefs and practices.

The Church of England, therefore, was able to find in Hooker’s writings a positive justification for the form it had taken, against the Puritan accusations that its forms and practices were not rooted in Scripture alone. The fifth book of Hooker’s treatise is an extended defence of the Book of Common Prayer against Puritan accusations of its continuation of medieval corruptions and errors.

For Liturgical Use

Richard Hooker was born in Exeter in 1554. After studies at Oxford and ordination he became master of the Temple in 1585. He entered into debate with the Puritans, who were demanding further reforms of the Church of England. In his Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Hooker offered a reasoned defence of the forms and practice of the Church of England, based on ideas of natural laws given by God in creation. Hooker died as parish priest of Bishopsbourne near Canterbury in 1600.

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O God of truth and peace, you raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 44:10-15

Psalm 19:7-14

1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16

John 17:18-23

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Sola Scriptura makes no sense to me.  The Bible developed in the context of the Church; the holy texts did not fall from the sky, fully developed.  This process of canonical development and consensus regarding what the definition of canon took centuries.  In fact, we Christians continue to disagree regarding the definition of the Old Testament Canon.

The Anglican formulation of Scripture, tradition, and reason makes much sense to me, however.  All three factors need to come to bear on matters of faith and theology.  The three-legged stool is not an exact analogy, however; the tricycle is a better option.  One wheel is bigger than the others.  Classical Anglican theology defines Scripture as the big wheel, but reason is my big wheel.

KRT

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