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By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
March 10, 2022


It is imperative to recognize Richard Hooker as a decidedly Reformed theologian. This is often denied among competing churchman-ships within the Anglican Communion i.e., Catholic and Liberal as opposed to Evangelical. In some cases, Thomas Cranmer is wrongly eclipsed in his founding influence within The Reformed Church of England by the claim that Richard Hooker is the principal mind that shaped the Ecclesia Anglicana, and, what is more, in a manner markedly contradictory to the theological convictions of our first evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury. This opinion is manifestly untrue and it is sad to see partisans of an unreformed version of Anglicanism denigrating the rise of the Reformation and demoting the significance of the one who prayerfully and diligently redrafted our Scriptural liturgy and shaped, with trusted and erudite colleagues, the doctrinal stance of the established church.

The tragic loss of Cranmerian conviction and biblical clarity bequeathed to us by our great Reformer has led to the confusion of faith and practice within the Church of England that has also spread disastrously to the majority of her daughter churches throughout the post-colonial world. The third largest Christian grouping on our globe has lapsed into error and irregularity that results from abandonment of our Reformational heritage. No ecclesiastical body can flourish and reliably feed the flock entrusted to it with so many theological options and varieties of religious allegiance as obtains within contemporary Anglicanism. The mix brings "nix" in sound spiritual edification and discipline and consistent proclamation of the gospel.

In reality there is no fundamental disagreement at all between Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker. These pious men happen to be of one accord in the Gospel of the Lord. This is so evident in the sermons of Hooker. Both men were of mild temperament and generous compassion toward sinful human beings, and each faithfully laid out the way of salvation, by grace alone, through faith alone, by trust in Christ alone. This triad of gospel affirmation summarized their united doctrinal and pastoral stance before men. And it happens to be the fact, that as theologians and pastors, the confident conclusion of Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, after intensive study, is fully justified: He states the pair were in most happy agreement in their advocacy of the Augustinian understanding of grace -- "Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker, [are] the two outstanding architects of the doctrine of the Church of England in the Henrican/Edwardian and Elizabethan periods respectively" (Faith and Works: Cranmer and Hooker On Justification, Morehouse-Barlow Co., Inc, Wilton, Connecticut, 1982, page 9).

Evidence for Agreement

Hughes matches the corresponding views of Cranmer and Hooker in the following examples:

"Our justification doth come freely by the mere mercy of God and of so great and free mercy that, whereas all the world was not able of themselves to pay any part towards their ransom, it pleased our heavenly Father of his infinite mercy, without any our desert or deserving, to prepare for us the most precious jewels of Christ's body and blood, whereby our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and his justice fully satisfied. So that Christ is now the righteousness of all that truly do believe in him. Thomas Cranmer

"The righteousness wherewith we shall be clothed in the world to come is both perfect and inherent. That whereby we are justified is perfect, but not inherent. That whereby we are sanctified, inherent, but not perfect."
"The best things we do have somewhat in them to be pardoned. How then can we do anything meritorious and worthy to be rewarded?"
"Faith is the only hand which putteth on Christ unto justification, and Christ the only garment which, being so put on, covereth the shame of our defiled natures." Richard Hooker

The great guest mentor and adviser of 16th century Reformation Anglicanism was the prominent Italian Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli, perhaps the major figure of that particular era best able to converse effectively with Christian thinkers and religious enquirers of our generation. Martyr is a towering representative of Augustinian thought in its resurgence in the emergence of Scriptural Protestantism. Appointed Regis Professor of Divinity at Oxford Martyr produced much of his greatest work while fulfilling his academic role at this acclaimed university. One of his most ardent and attentive disciples was John Jewel who became a close friend and an invaluable leader in the progress of English Reform, writing that major and unanswerable contribution to the defense of classic Anglicanism entitled the Apology of the Church of England. Jewel ably and keenly preserved the theology of his astute Italian tutor and handed it on intact to Richard Hooker. This remarkable "theological genealogy" is of the utmost importance as Hughes acknowledges. "Jewel's protege and disciple Richard Hooker maintained and promoted the same teaching as his master had so ably expounded. It is Hooker who, in classical manner, concludes the line and confirms the position of the reformed Anglicanism of the sixteenth century" (Pages 40-41).

If we are moved by the theological assertions of Richard Hooker and become admirers of the faith he confessed then we must be honest about the true character of the theological category by which the sage of Devon is to be identified. If Edward Norman is correct in describing authentic Anglicanism as Calvinistic then we must acknowledge the agreement of Hooker with Jean Calvin, a divine, it is recorded, he greatly admired, and especially so in the doctrine of human salvation. "The foundation theology of the Church of England is definitely Calvinist --compare the Articles of Religion with the Westminster Confession" (Anglican Difficulties: A New Syllabus of Errors, Morehouse, New York, 2004, page viii).

In his extensive examination of the views of Richard Hooker, Daniel Eppley writes, "In the Lawes Hooker confirmed that 'belief {in the truths of Christianity] 'is the gift of God,' and he noted the predestinarian corollary that God's free choice was solely responsible for separating the saved from the damned (Lawes, V. 49. 1-2) . . .

Already in 1586, he emphasized that election involved absolutely nothing predisposing God to favor the elect, 'no more than the clay when the potter appoints it to be framed for an honorable use, nay, not so much, for the matter whereupon the craftsman works he chooses, being moved with the fitness which is in it to serve his turn: in us no such thing.' Summarizing his position on predestination in terms similar to the Lambeth Articles (authorized by Archbishop John Whitgift), Hooker asserted:

1.That God has predestinated certain men, not all men. 2.That the cause moving him hereunto was not the foresight of any virtue in us at all, 3. That to him the number of the elect is definitely known. 4. That it cannot be but their sins must condemn them whom the purpose of his saving mercy doth not extend. 5. That to God's foreknown elect, the final continuance of grace is given. 6. That inward grace whereby to be saved, is deservedly not given unto all men. 7. That no man comes to Christ whom God by the inward Spirit draws not. 8. And that it is not in every, no not in any man's mere ability, freedom, and power to be saved, no man's salvation being possible without grace (Folger Library Edition 4:167). The Reformation Theologians: An Introduction To Theology In The Early Modern Period, Edited by Carter Lindberg, Blackwell, Oxford, UK, 2002, pages 254 - 255).

For Hooker salvation was entirely a matter of grace and not due to one scintilla of the virtue or effort of human nature. There is no glimmer of holiness or desert in man. Our nature is utterly destitute of any semblance of worth or merit before God. "We deny the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we imbase, disannul, annihilate the benefit of his bitter passion, if we rest in those proud imaginations that life everlasting is deservedly ours, that we merit it, and that we are worthy of it (Hughes page103). Hooker ascribed no natural ability to the fallen will of man to give assent to the gospel, depart from sin, choose Christ and desire his gift of salvation. "The Pelagians being over-great friends unto nature, made themselves enemies unto grace, for all their confessing that men have their souls and all the faculties thereof, their wills and the ability of their wills from God" (Hughes page101). "The heresy of freewill was a millstone about the Pelagians' neck" (Hughes page 89).

Richard Hooker rejoiced in Christ alone as our Savior accomplishing on our behalf a salvation that is complete and certain of final fulfillment. Christ is absolutely successful in his redemptive endeavor.

"How then is our salvation wrought by Christ alone? Is it our meaning that nothing is requisite to man's salvation but Christ save, and he to be saved quietly without any more to do? No, we acknowledge no such foundation. As we have received so we teach that besides the bare and naked work wherein Christ, without any other associate, finished all the parts of our redemption and purchased salvation himself alone, for conveyance of this eminent blessing unto us many things are required, as to be known and chosen of God before the foundation of the world, in the world to be called, justified, sanctified, after we have left the world to be received into glory: Christ in every one of these hath something which he worketh alone. Through him, according to the eternal purpose of God before the foundation of the world, born, crucified, buried, raised, etc., we were in a gracious acceptation known unto God long before we were seen of men: God knew us, loved us, was kind towards us in Christ Jesus; in him we were elected to be heirs of life (Hughes page 96).

Hooker definitely was a theological descendant of John Jewel and Peter Martyr. He admired the works of another Italian Reformer named Jerome Zanchius, a favorite also, in later years of Augustus Toplady. Unlike these two strongly Reformed scholars Hooker was somewhat nervous over the issue of the negative aspect predestination, namely non-election, and for pastoral reasons avoided discussion of the topic, best described in his way as a passing by and rejection due to unforsaken sin in the minds of many.

Daniel Emppley is right to describe Hooker as a moderate Calvinist (page 264) who flinched at the statements of those he deemed to be more radical. This is probably why Ian Breward credits Hooker as showing an independent Reformed position "on matters like predestination" (The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Editor J.D. Douglas, Zondervan).

But Calvinist Hooker was; guarded though he was. Archbishop James Ussher of Ireland was firmly and resolutely Calvinistic and disturbed by the rise of Arminianism in the English Church under the joint influence of Archbishop William Laud and the king, Charles Stuart. But Ussher preserved in his own hand several sermons of Richard Hooker. To repeat, it is imperative to recognize Richard Hooker as a decidedly Reformed theologian. The fact gives us an additional key to the true character of Anglicanism and a valuable ally in the preservation and proclamation of divine truth.

"And Episcopalians (Anglicans) in particular, who trace their spiritual ancestry back to men like Cranmer and Hooker, will be well advised, if they wish to recover the wholeness and coherence that should rightly be theirs, to heed once more and re-appropriate the instruction given by these founding fathers of their communion (Hughes page 47).

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church,

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