Priest, Apologist, Teacher
Richard Hooker lived at a critical time for the Church of England and became one of the most important English theologians of the 16th century, providing the Church of England with a theological method which combined the claims of revelation, reason, and tradition. Traditionally, he has been credited as the originator of the Anglican via media; the middle way between Protestantism and Catholicism.
Hooker was born near Exeter around 1554, educated at Corpus Christi College Oxford, and was then made Fellow there in 1577, and Deputy Professor of Hebrew in 1579. In 1581 he was ordained, and later appointed as Rector of Drayton Beauchamp. In 1585, Hooker was appointed Master of the Temple Church in London, but returned to rural ministry six years later, first at Boscombe in Wiltshire, and then at Bishopsbourne in Kent, where he died in 1600.
Following the 1559 Elizabethan Settlement of the C of E, and the growing Puritan party within the Church, the 1580s and 1590s were a time of bitter theological disputes between those in the Church of England.
Hooker was implacably against Puritanism, and set about refuting it, and defending the Church of England in his magisterial eight-volume book On the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. The book has been called “probably the first great work of Philosophy and Theology to be written in English.” In it, Hooker set out to demonstrate the superiority of episcopacy in the C of E, as opposed to bringing in the presbyterian system that the Puritans wanted. Anglicanism, he said, was rooted in both Scripture and tradition, as suited a Church both Catholic and Reformed; as human reason is a gift from God, he argued, this too was a vital element in interpreting both Scripture and tradition.
So, Richard Hooker was the first real apologist for Anglicanism. His contribution to Anglican thought was so huge that down the centuries he has won the backing of all wings of the Church: the evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, and central churchmen.
Image: (Cropped from) Richard Hooker, Wenceslaus Hollar, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons