On any list of great English theologians, the name of Richard Hooker (1554-1600)would appear at or near the top. His masterpiece is The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Its philosophical base is Aristotelian, with a strong emphasis on natural law eternally planted by God in creation. On this foundation, all positive laws of Church and State are developed from Scriptural revelation, ancient tradition, reason, and experience.
The occasion of his writing was the demand of English Puritans for a reformation of Church government. Calvin had established in Geneva a system whereby each congregation was ruled by a commission comprising two thirds laymen elected annually by the congregation and one third clergy serving for life. The English Puritans (by arguments more curious than convincing) held that no church not so governed could claim to be Christian.
Hooker replies to this assertion, but in the process he raises and considers fundamental questions about the authority and legitimacy of government (religious and secular), about the nature of law, and about various kinds of law, including the laws of physics as well as the laws of England. In the course of his book he sets forth the Anglican view of the Church, and the Anglican approach to the discovery of religious truth (the so-called via media, or middle road), and explains how this differs from the position of the Puritans, on the one hand, and the adherents of the Pope, on the other. He is very heavy reading, but well worth it. (He says, on the first page of Chapter I: "Those unto whom we shall seem tedious are in no wise injuried by us, seeing that it lies in their own hands to spare themselves the labor they are unwilling to endure." This translates into modern English as: "If you can't take the intellectual heat, get out of the kitchen. If you can't stand a book that makes you think, go read the funny papers.")
The effect of the book has been considerable. Hooker greatly influenced John Locke, and (both directly and through Locke), American political philosophy in the late 1700's. Although Hooker is unsparing in his censure of what he believes to be the errors of Rome, his contemporary, Pope Clement VIII (died 1605), said of the book: "It has in it such seeds of eternity that it will abide until the last fire shall consume all learning."
30 Jun 2004, 3:28 a.m. - dirk
Full text and summaries
Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity
(preferably read in sequence):
Preface to Hooker's Polity
Summary of Hooker's Polity (part 1)
Summary of Hooker's Polity (part 2)
Summary of Hooker's Polity (part 3)
Full text (PDF format):
6 Oct 2004, 9:50 p.m. - Andrew Hamilton
Excerpt showing Hooker's command of the Gorgianic style:
Now if nature should intermit her course, and leave altogether though it were but for a while the observation of her own laws; if those principal and mother elements of the world, whereof all things in this lower world are made, should lose the qualities which now they have; if the frame of that heavenly arch erected over our heads should loosen and dissolve itself; if celestial spheres should forget their wonted motions, and by irregular volubility turn themselves any way as it might happen; if the prince of the lights of heaven, which now as a giant doth run his unwearied course, should as it were through a languishing faintness begin to stand and to rest himself; if the moon should wander from her beaten way, the times and seasons of the year blend themselves by disordered and confused mixture, the winds breathe out their last gasp, the clouds yield no rain, the earth be defeated of heavenly influence, the fruits of the earth pine away as children at the withered breasts of their mother no longer able to yield them relief; what would become of man himself, whom these things now do all serve? "Of the Laws..." Book I, Section III, Part 2
16 Apr 2010, 5:09 a.m. - Michael Robinson
Hooker, Richard, 1553 (or 4) - 1600.
The works of Mr. Richard Hooker, (that learned and judicious divine) in eight books of ecclesiastical polity, compleated out of his own manuscrips [sic]; never before published. With an account of his life and death. Dedicated to the Kings most excellent Majesty, Charles IId. by whose royal father (near his martyrdom) the former five books (then onely extant) were commended to his dear children, as an excellent means to satisfie private scruples, and settle the publick peace of this church and kingdom.
London : printed by Thomas Newcomb for Andrew Crook, at the Green-Dragon in St. Pauls Church-yard, 1666.
fo., , 36, , 330, 325-579  p.,  leaves of plates : ill., port. ; frontis. portrait (plate) of the author signed "Guil. Faithorne sculp:" and additional engraved title page (plate) "Of the lawes of ecclesiastical politie".
Includes: Travers, Walter. A supplication made to the councel by Master Walter Travers.
Wing (CD-ROM, 1996), H2631
The first four books appeared in 1593, there were many editions prior and subsequent. This edition edited by John Gauden ( http://www.pepysdiary.com/encyclopedia/993/ ); the 'account of the life of Richard Hooker' is by Izaak Walton.
23 Apr 2014, 1:58 p.m. - Bill
The edition of Richard Hooker's great work, "Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie," in the Pepysian Library, is dated 1666.
31 May 2016, 9:49 p.m. - Terry Foreman
The works of Mr. Richard Hooker (that learned and judicious divine), in eight books of ecclesiastical polity compleated out of his own manuscripts, never before published : with an account of his life and death ...
Hooker, Richard, 1553 or 4-1600., Gauden, John, 1605-1662., Walton, Izaak, 1593-1683., Travers, Walter, 1547 or 8-1635. Supplication made to the councel.
London: Printed by Thomas Newcomb for Andrew Crook ..., 1666.
Early English Books Online [full text]
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.