Nov 3, 2009

Richard Hooker: Priest, Legal Scholar, Humble Servant

Today on the Anglican calendar is the festival of Richard Hooker, who died on Nov 2 or 3, 1600. Russell Kirk says this of Hooker, who had a lasting influence on the jurisprudence of the English reformation and hence the American founding:

Hooker's understanding of the benign character of law, of historical and cultural continuity, of constitutional government, and of prudent toleration would persist even among most leaders of the American Revolution--whether or not they had been reared as Anglicans, for Hooker's arguments penetrated beyond the communion of the Church of England. Many Americans (though not most New Englanders) acquired their early concepts of human nature and of the civil social order from the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer, which Hooker's defense of the via media secured as the basic ecclesiastical teaching of reformed England.
Despite his relatively short life (he died at age 46) as an obscure priest, Hooker's influence is enduring. He was humble, yet brilliant; theologically sound, yet tolerant: "temperate and literate." May we have more like him today.

William Cowper's epitaph ends with this:
Yet he that lay so long obscurely low
Doth now preferr'd to greater honours go.
Ambitious men, learn hence to be more wise;
Humility is the true way to rise:
And God in me this lesson did inspire,
To bid this humble man, Friend, sit up higher.
Thanks be to God for the life and ministry of Richard Hooker!

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