Situating Richard Hooker

Anglicans of every variety often claim that Richard Hooker is the founder of Anglicanism. Are they justified in doing so? That is a complicated question, not least because the history of the ecclesia Anglicana stretches back much further than Hooker. However, his contribution to the reformation of the Church of England in the 16th century does make him a major figure in the shaping of modern Anglicanism.

W. Bradford Littlejohn, in his recent book, Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work,  concludes the following in a chapter that evaluates Hooker’s theology in relation to his Protestant Reformed contemporaries:

It appears very likely that Hooker understood himself, and should be understood, as following more or less within the footsteps of the leading Protestant Reformers. Not only that, but if we had to place him more precisely, he would appear on most questions to fall fairly unproblematically within the broad and varied Reformed theological family that was developing so fruitfully at this time. This does not make him an uninteresting figure, simply restating established orthodoxies in a predictable form. Far from it. Hooker always remained his own man, and demonstrates a strikingly independent theological mind on many of the points that vexed his contemporaries. But his novelty perhaps lies more in the way he reshuffled the existing deck of theological cards he had been dealt, rather than in introducing new cards into the deck. That is to say, he takes up many of the tensions that we see within the Reformed tradition, on issues such as the role of reason, the efficacy of the sacraments and role of liturgy, and the nature of predestination, and seeks to offer a creative synthesis within the general bounds of the tradition, though sometimes outside the mainstream. It is also clear that he had no interest in defining himself narrowly within a party label, but hoped to claim as much of the Christian tradition as possible – Reformed, Lutheran, the best of medieval Catholicism, and the Church Fathers. In this, perhaps more than anything else, it can fairly be said that he prefigured the spirit of Anglican theology (67-68).

So while we might not go so far as to call Hooker the founder of Anglicanism, his work plays a decidedly significant role in beginning to set Anglicanism apart as a unique theological tradition.

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2 thoughts on “Situating Richard Hooker

    1. I’m nearly finished, and am also finding it very helpful. He seems to have a really balanced take on Hooker, and helpfully demonstrates that by regularly pointing to Hooker scholarship that tends to take more extreme views. I’ve bookmarked the interview to come back to later – I wanted to read the book first!

      Liked by 1 person

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