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Richard Hooker and his Contemporaries on Episcopacy: an Elizabethan Consensus

  • M. R. Sommerville
Extract

Although much has been written about Hooker's thought in recent years, particularly since the preparation of the Folger edition of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, surprisingly little has appeared on the relationship between Hooker's ideas and those of contemporary defenders of the Elizabethan establishment. Hooker's Laws was a controversial work, and we can expect to learn much about its meaning by comparing it with the works of his fellow controversialists. The aim of this article is to demonstrate the insight that can be gained from a comparison of his thought with that of his contemporaries, by examining one major problem in its exegesis – that is, his attitude to the role of bishops in the government of the Church.

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1 Hooker, Richard, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Folger Library Edition, Edelen, G. and Hill, W. Speed (eds.), Cambridge, Mass. 1977. For an introductory bibliography, cf. Grislis, E. and Hill, W. Speed, ‘Richard Hooker: an annotated bibliography’, in Hill, W. Speed (ed.), Studies in Richard Hooker, Cleveland and London 1972 2320. Thompson, W. D. J. Cargill is an outstanding example of a commentator who has not neglected the ideological context of Hooker's thought. The most important articles are: ‘Anthony Marten and the Elizabethan debate on episcopacy’ in Bennett, G. V. and Walsh, J. D. (eds.), Essays in Modern English Church History, London 1966 475; ‘A reconsideration of Richard Bancroft's Paul's Cross Sermon of 9 February 1588/9’, this Journal, XX (1969), 253–66; and ‘The philosopher of the Politic society’ in Speed Hill, Studies, 3–76. Cargill Thompson has offered a highly sophisticated account of the intellectual background of Hooker's thought, and, although I differ from it at some important points, my debt to his work will be apparent.

2 Luoma, J. K., ‘Restitution or Reformation ? Cartwright and Hooker on the Elizabethan Church’, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Churches, xlvi (1977), 85106; Almasy, R., ‘The purpose of Richard Hooker's polemic’, Journal of the History of Ideas, xxxix (1978), 251–70.

3 Cf. Sisson, C. J., The Judicious Marriage of Mr Hooker, Cambridge 1940 9108, for the suggestion that Hooker was not the sole author of Book VII. Hill, W. Speed, ‘Hooker's Polity. The problem of the “three last books’”, Huntington Library Quarterly, xxxiv (1971), 317–36, rejects this solution at p. 330.

4 Shirley, F. J., Richard Hooker and Contemporary Political Ideas, London 1949 1.

5 Speed Hill, ‘Hooker's Polity’, 335–6.

6 Allen, J. W., A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century, London 1928 181.

7 Shirley, Richard Hooker, 60, 108–9 and 127–8; Shirley did attempt to question the authenticity of Book VII in order to restore Hooker's coherence. Cargill Thompson, ‘Philosopher of Politic society’, 69 n. 26, stated that’ Hooker's conversion to the belief that episcopacy was a dominical institution is almost certainly attributable to the influence of Saravia's De Diversis Ministrorum Evangelii Gradibus (1590), which had a profound influence on Anglican attitudes towards episcopacy in the 1590s... Hooker's arguments are essentially in accordance with the new theory of the dominical origin of bishops, which was being advocated by a number of Anglican divines, such as Saravia, Bilson and Bancroft in the 1590s.’ Cf. also New, J. H., Anglican and Puritan, London 1964 58.

8 Hooker, Richard, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, in The Works, Rev. Keble, J. (ed.), Oxford 1888 (hereafter cited as LEP.), Preface, vii. 3.

9 Ibid, III. ii. 2.

10 Ibid, III. xi. 5.

11 The Admonition to Parliament appeared in June 1572, Whitgift's Answere to a certen Libel in the same year, and his Defence of the Answere against Cartwright's Replie in 1574. Thomas Cartwright continued the controversy with the Second Replie in 1575 and The Rest of the second Replie in 1577, but Whitgift did not respond.

12 Whitgift, , Answere to a certen Libel, London 1572 21.

13 Ibid., 31.

14 Allen, History of Political Thought, 185; Shirley, Richard Hooker, 60; Cargill Thompson, ‘Philosopher of Politic society’, 16; Almasy, ‘Purpose of Hooker's polemic’, 252.

15 Cosin, Richard (1549–97), An Answer to the two first and principall Treatises, London, 1584, was published in reply to An Abstract of certeine Acts, which attempted to support, by reference to current canons and statutes, the claims of Presbyterianism.

16 Bridges, John, A Defence of the Government Established, London 1587 8, 88.

17 Cooper, Thomas, An Admonition to the People of England, London 1589 3.

18 Tracts ascribed to Richard Bancroft, ed. Peel, A., Cambridge 1953, 95. In his Sermon Preached at Paules Cross, London 1588 1, Bancroft gave a similar account of the essential attributes of the true church, and again did not include among these a set form of church government; only true faith and proper administration of the sacraments were held to be such.

19 Peel, Tracts ascribed to Bancroft, 107.

20 Matthew Sutcliffe (1550–1629), was dean of Exeter from 1588. See De Presbyterio, eiusque nova in Ecclesia Christiana politeia, London 1591 120, for his belief in the ius divinum of episcopacy. An Answere to a Certaine Libel Supplicatorie, London 1592, maintains that the disaffected English Presbyterians were plotting sedition.

21 Sutcliffe, Be Presbyterio, 64–8. ‘Christus ergo … non est dicendus externae ecclesiae politiae legislator … ‘(p. 66). ‘…non enim ita appellarunt constitutiones ecclesiasticas leges, ut cum moralibus easdem aequarent, nee eas a Christo latas dixerunt, nee immutabiles, ut I. B. facit, qui externam & internam administrationem miscet, & legume morum, & Evangelium, & ecclesiae constitutiones uno nomine aequat ‘(p. 68).

22 Sutcliffe, Answere to Libel, 62.

23 Hooker, LEP., III. x. 2.

24 Ibid., III. x. 7.

25 Ibid., VII. ii. 3; VII. iv. 1.

26 Ibid., VII. v. 2.

27 Ibid., VII. v. 10. In the light of Hooker's belief in the apostolic endorsement of episcopal government, we must treat with caution C. Morris's statement that’ In Hooker's view “things indifferent” included not only ceremonies but the whole of ecclesiastical organization and government, even episcopacy itself.’ (Political Thought in England from Tyndale to Hooker, Oxford 1953 1). The statement is strictly correct, if indifferent’ means that government could, unlike rules on matters of faith and salvation, be varied at human discretion; but it should not be taken to imply that any form of church government was as good as any other - Hooker's preference for episcopacy is evident. Similarly, Richard Bauckham has suggested recently that Hooker ‘held that Scripture does not teach church polity’ and that ‘Scripture cannot determine church polity’. These remarks could be misleading for Scripture could, and did, ‘teach’ men by apostolic example, even when it did not absolutely ‘determine’ the form of church government. R. Bauckham, ‘Richard Hooker and John Calvin: a comment’, this Journal, xxxii (1981), 29–33, at pp. 31–2.

28 It might be this point that A. S. McGrade was attempting to make when he stated that: ‘Instead of opposing their unqualified iurt divino assertions on behalf of presbyterian lay elders with a similarly absolute claim for the legitimacy of bishops, he refuted his opponents’ claims (or intended to do so) in Book VI and then based his own episcopal position on principles that were imposing and effective but non-absolute.’ McGrade, A. S., ‘Hooker's Polity and the establishment of the English Church’, in McGrade, A. S. and Vickers, B. (eds.), Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, London 1975, at p. 28.

29 Hooker, LEP., VII. v. 8.

30 Ibid., III. xi. 16.

31 Whitgift, Answere, 123 and 71–2.

32 Ibid., 43–4.

33 Bridges, Defence of the Government Established, sigs. Cc ir and Ff 6r & v.

34 Ibid., sig. S 5V. Commenting on this passage, Cargill Thompson has argued that Bridges admitted that episcopacy was an ordinance of God only in so far as it was ‘“not so much the express ordinance of God, as of godly men” yet “it was a thing that man might do”, since there was no law of Christ against it … ‘(Cargill Thompson, ‘Anthony Marten: the debate on episcopacy’, 55, 59). Although Bridges's prose was tortuous at this point (as it was so often), it is clear that he was not here talking of episcopacy itself, but of the application of the name of ‘bishop’. He states: ‘let the application of the name, be not so much the expresse ordinance of God, as of godly men, and those in the Apostles times’. He insists, by contrast, that the matter of episcopacy was divine: ‘For although no such ordinance appropriating the name Bishop, be expressed in the manifest word of God: yet the ordinance of the matter is plainely expressed: as we have shewed out of Timothie, Calvines and Bezaes plaine confession of the same’ (sig. S 4V, p. 280, my italics). Indeed, Bridges had only just spelt out the distinction between the name of bishop and its actual existence (cf. sig. S 4r (p. 279). The office of bishop was apostolically and divinely sanctioned; it was men who, in apostolic times, ascribed the name ‘bishop’ to the holder of this office. Bridges believed that there was positive divine approval for episcopacy, not merely - as Cargill Thompson suggests - negative permission. (Cf. Sutcliffe, Answere to Libel, 56.)

36 Ibid., sig. S 8r (p. 287).

37 Ibid., cf. sigs. Q7V and Q 8v (pp. 254, 256).

37 Cosin, Answer, 191–2.

38 Peel, Tracts ascribed to Bancroft, 88, 108.

39 Cargill Thompson has argued that Bancroft's opinions had altered by the time he preached his Paul's Cross sermon, and that ‘the significant feature of Bancroft's sermon is that this argument from things indifferent is entirely omitted.’ (‘A reconsideration of Bancroft's sermon’, 264–5.) However, he himself has shown that ‘i t is no longer possible to accept the view that the Sermon marked the first appearance of the jure divino theory’ (p. 258). Given the polemical intentions of Bancroft's sermon, it is not surprising that he laid no stress on the mutability of ecclesiastical government. Also, Bancroft did insist that the civil magistrate ‘hath ordinarie authoritie for making all lawes, ceremonies and constitutions of the church: that without his authoritie, no such lawes, ceremonies or constitutions are or ought to be of force’ (Sermon at Paules Cross, 70). This insistence tends to imply that Bancroft's views on the mutability of discipline were unaltered.

40 Bilson, Thomas, The Perpetuall Government of Christes Church, London 1593 2.

41 Saravia, Hadrian, Of the diverse degrees of the Ministers of the Gospel, London 1592, Praeamble, sig. D 2v.

42 Downham, George, A Defence of the Sermon, London 1611, 21.

43 ‘The Validity of the Ordination’ was published in Certain Briefe Treatises, Oxford 1641 (quotation at p. 163). It was then ascribed to Francis Mason (1566–1621), archdeacon of Norfolk, but it might in fact have been written by John Overall (1560–1619), bishop of Norwich. (Cf. Mason's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.) Both Mason and Overall were committed supporters of episcopacy.

44 Sanderson, Robert, Episcopacy (As Established by law in England), London 1661 116.

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