RICHARD Hooker is often called the presiding genius of Anglicanism. But the most formative theologian of the Anglican way is a distant figure to many people.
Philip Secor has set out to change all this in his brilliant work about the great Elizabethan reformer. His immensely readable book on the “prophet of Anglicanism” is indeed the first full length, detailed biography in the almost 400 years since his death on Nov. 3, 1600.
Secor has two predecessors, but the inaccurate life by John Gauden prefixed to the first complete edition of Hooker’s Works (1661) hardly counts. Nor can be rely on Izaak Walton’s brief but famous panegyric of 1664, for its aim was primarily to depict Hooker as a saint.
Richard Hooker is best known for his formidable Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity published in 1593 and 1597. Because his life lacked high adventure, we have few details of it apart from vital statistics and appointments he received.
Secor, however, gives us a lively account of the life Hooker must have experienced in the Exeter of his birth and earliest years, the Oxford he knew as an undergraduate and don, the London where he was the master of the Temple Church, and country parish of Bishopsbourne, Kent, where he spent his last years.
Secor also provides us with sketches of persons important to Hooker, especially Archbishop John Whitgift of Canterbury. We learn about the unpleasant academic and ecclesiastical feuding of these years, and discover the context within which Hooker lived, wrote, and himself contended.
Sometimes, Secor very credibly puts words into Hooker’s mouth, but he always tells when he is imagining a likely scene or devising a speech; his extensive notes prove that he has read widely and intelligently. He succeeds in bringing Hooker to life for the general reader as well as the scholar. [pullquote]
Some of the best parts of the book describe Hooker’s Lawes, especially Book V, which was “written for the ages,” and is “a storehouse of what was to become Anglican doctrine on the Incarnation and the Resurrection.”
These concerns lead naturally to U.S. Episcopal historian John Booty’s most recent book, which one might want to read alongside Secor’s biography.
Booty writes out of great learning and experience, and he shows how, in an essentially devotional way, to read Richard Hooker, who still lives for us and who “contributed mightily to ? the ‘Anglican ethos.'” Paul G. Stanwood is professor emeritus of English at the University of British Columbia. He has published studies of John Donne and Isaak Walton, and edited books 6, 7 and 8 of Hooker’s Lawes.
Reflections on the Theology of Richard Hooker
An Elizabethan Addresses Modern Anglicanism
By John Booty
University of the South Press
219 pages, hardcover, $20.50 U.S.
ISBN 0 918769 45 0