Richard Hooker and the Vision of God: Exploring the
origins of "Anglicanism"
James Clarke £25
IF WE can read only one Anglican theologian, it should
unquestionably be Richard Hooker. When he died in 1600, he had
certainly never heard of "Anglicanism". But he had laid the
foundations of the Anglican understanding of the Church in his
great work Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity.
Hooker is difficult to read, even for those who love
Shakespeare. It takes a while to get on to his wavelength. We need
guidance to inhabit his universe. If we have time to read only one
sensibly sized and reasonably priced book about Hooker's thought,
it should, in my view, be this one.
Because the modern Church of England suffers from acute
historical amnesia, Hooker is little- known, and hardly even heard
of by Church of England ordinands. But, quite apart from Hooker's
substantive teaching on ecclesiology, there are (as Miller
suggests) good reasons to grapple with his thought.
First, he teaches us to think theologically, always bringing
specific issues back to first principles. Second, Hooker shows by
example how Christians should conduct themselves in theological
controversy. He was a formidable opponent, but most of us do not
doubt his sincerity when he says that his desire is to find
agreement in the truth with his adversaries. Third, there is the
unity of theology and spirituality, of study and prayer. To read
Hooker on the eucharist is to find ourselves uplifted in praise and
Hooker wrote at a time of crisis, with passion and urgency. The
Elizabethan Puritans sought to demolish much of the Church of
England as Hooker knew it - the liturgy, episcopacy, the Christian
year, and much of the sacramental dimension (their successors
succeeded briefly in the 1640s and 1650s). Hooker said he was
writing so that these things might not pass away as in a dream. He
knew it was a fight to the death.
Miller usually refers to those who were discontented with the
Elizabethan "settlement" as "non-conformists". In spite of a rather
confusing explanatory note, this usage is eccentric and misleading.
The Puritan critics of the 1559 Prayer Book and of episcopacy were
clergy and laity of the Established Church. They did not refuse to
conform, though they did so with an ill grace. There were also many
Roman Catholic "church papists" who conformed outwardly. The true
Nonconformists at this time were the Separatists, a numerically
minuscule group who challenged the State as well as the Church, and
whose leaders paid the penalty of death or exile.
Miller provides a clear and interesting exposition of Hooker's
thought, organised by prominent themes and broken down by
subheadings. He has absorbedHooker's writings, and is abreast of
much recent secondary literature. He normally uses John Keble's
1838/41 edition of Hooker's works, which has modern orthographyand
so is reader-friendly, rather than the definitive text of theFolger
Library Edition, which reproduces the original spelling, etc.
Miller does not set out to break fresh ground in research or
interpretation, but he captures Hooker's vision.
It was a vision shaped by the principles of rationality (through
reason we can know reality, though God surpasses human knowledge),
hierarchy (society should reflectthe divine order and authority),
and participation, or, as we might say today, "communion", and is
ultimately the vision of God, the fullest realisation of human
The Revd Professor Paul Avis is a former general secretary
of the Church of England's Council for Christian Unity, Canon
Theologian of Exeter Cathedral, and editor-in-chief of