Richard Hooker (1554-1600) was an English theologian famous for his work Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie. According to Nigel Voak, until around twenty-five years ago the scholarly consensus was that he was "the first systematic defender of Anglicanism, setting out in Elizabeth I's reign the Church's position as a via media [middle way] between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism." (1) Now, however, many consider "superimposing Anglicanism onto the Elizabethan and Jacobean Church... anachronistic." (3) The central religious conflict at the time was between Catholic and Reformed theology, and although some Reformed groups, such as the puritans, were considered radicals, Reformed Protestantism in general was mainstream.

Scholars differ as to how Hooker fits into this new picture. Some argue that Hooker is not, as has traditionally been thought, a defender of the mainstream, but rather that he reacted against the Reformed mainstream, synthesizing Catholicism and Reformed theology into what would become Anglicanism. Others argue that although Hooker's views differ somewhat from his Reformed contemporaries, he is still essentially a Reformed theologian.

Hooker wrote Lawes "to rebut the theological arguments of Thomas Cartwright and Walter Travers, both specifically as regards presbyterianism, and more generally as regards a spectrum of broadly puritan religious positions" (15). The work takes several positions that pull away from Reformed doctrine towards Catholicism. Most notably, Hooker defends Church ritual and argues that scripture is not the only divinely sanctioned law. He is also more lenient than tradition Reformed theologians regarding the possibility of salvation for Catholics. These views are milder and more conservative than the relatively radical Reformed theology of the day.

In "Signs of the Times" Thomas Carlyle mentions Hooker only in passing. In the passage in which Hooker appears Carlyle's focus is the predominant philosophy of his age, which Smith, De Lolme, and Bentham represent. He mentions the philosophies of Socrates, Plato, Hooker, and Taylor, who he says emphasize moral goodness and the mind's power to determine happiness, only to show their superiority over the predominant philosophy of his age, which he says emphasizes the environment's power over the individual. Although their beliefs are hardly homogenous, Carlyle makes no distinction between Socrates, Plato, Hooker, and Taylor. He is interested in them because of their belief in individual moral power.

Hooker's contemporaries would have agreed about the "infinite worth of moral goodness." Carlyle mentions Hooker in particular because he argues for the power of the individual. The Reformed theologians of the time argued predestination and emphasized original sin, both of which limit individual power and worth. Hooker, however, holds "a relatively benign view of original sin, and a high estimation of human abilities" (5). Carlyle believes that the philosophers of his day should share that high estimation.

Bibliography

Voak, Nigel. Richard Hooker and Reformed Theology: A Study of Reason, Will, and Grace. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2003. Pages xvi-21.


Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Thomas Carlyle's Works Discussion Questions

Last modified 8 April 2009