The Good & Great Works of Richard Hooker

Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity laws, a volume of sermons and tractates, and a volume of contemporary commentary on the laws—will be published in 1978)

Preface and Books I-V by Richard Hooker. The Folger Library Edition of the Works of Richard Hooker, edited by W. Speed Hill
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Vol.II, 624 pp., $60.00 the set (three more volumes in this edition—the balance of the

At first sight, it seems odd that Richard Hooker should be celebrated, and his works published, in America. Hooker is a very English figure, the Doctor Angelicus of the Church of England—that established Church which, from the first publication, in 1593, of his great work, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, turned back the tide of Puritanism and sent its irreducible opponents to find a refuge,

safe from the storm’s and prelate’s rage,

in this more hospitable land. Why then should it be in this continent, which has rejected all established churches, that his works are now being republished, more splendidly and more accurately than ever, thanks to the generosity of American patrons and the devotion of American scholars? On the face of it, it is a paradox.

It is not the only paradox. Hooker’s work itself presents us with paradoxes. There is the paradox of his reputation. His great work was born of controversy. It was designed to secure the victory of a party in the bitter struggles of the Elizabethan Church. But in spite of this, he himself has always, in some mysterious way, remained an Olympian figure, standing benignly above the battle in which, historically, he had been so deeply engaged. In his lifetime, the praises of this Protestant, Anglican writer were sung, we are told, by Pope and Cardinals. After his death, King James I, arriving from Scotland to claim his new kingdom, was disappointed to find that he was too late to meet “that man from whose books I have received such satisfaction.” A generation later, King Charles I and Archbishop Laud took up the refrain. But when the Puritans have rebelled against both King and Archbishop, Hooker, we find, does not sink with them: he rises effortlessly on the new stream. The magniloquent tirades of Milton spare the name of this more sedate, more philosophical prosaist; the radical pamphleteers of the Civil War explicitly exempt from condemnation “the sweet and noble Hooker,” and the Puritan Baxter claims him as an ally.

When Church and King are restored, the Puritans sink again out of sight. But not Hooker. Now he enjoys his apotheosis as the patron saint of the narrow, high-flying, high-Tory Church of the Restoration; and there he stays—until the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when behold! while dynasty and high-Tory Anglicanism go down, he surfaces again as the avowed oracle of John Locke and the Whig party. And so it goes on. In the 1830s the last complete edition of Hooker’s writings before this great American project filled six years of the life of John Keble, the founder of that Oxford movement which in some ways was the reversal of Hooker’s work: for it ended by disowning the royal supremacy, which Hooker had so uncompromisingly defended, and by sending many of its intellectual leaders back from Canterbury to Rome. No wonder he has been immortalized under the misleading title of “the judicious Hooker”!

How is it that Hooker …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.