tempus mirabilis and theological ferment that was the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare, Spenser, Marlowe were Hooker's contemporaries. The learning, balance, sense of fairness, and prudence exhibited by Hooker in his great work Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (or Politie) earned him great praise. As one example of many encomia that could be cited is the comment of Pope Clement VIII (1536-1605) , who is reported to have said in 1597 in the presence of the English Cardinal William Allen (1532-94), that the Protestant Hooker's great work"has in it such seeds of eternity that it will abide until the last fire shall consume all learning." (Alexander S. Rosenthal, Crown Under Law: Richard Hooker, John Locke, and the Ascent of Modern Constitutionalism (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008), xiv & xxviii n. 3; see also Walton, 84).
It is perhaps evidence of the fires of relativism and secularism consuming all learning that most moderns are clueless of Richard Hooker, much less of his work. So we will start off with a brief biographical sketch of this man. Born at the town of Heavitree in Exeter, Devon in 1554 from a family neither noble nor wealthy, Richard Hooker attended school at Exeter, and later attended Corpus Christi College at Oxford, largely as a result of the financial largess of Bishop of Salisbury, John Jewel, who supported his education. One of his earliest biographers, describes the young Hooker as "an early questionist, quietly inquisitive." (Izaak Walton, 8) At Oxford, his tutor was John Rainolds (Reynolds), a clergyman and scholar of decidedly Calvinistic, even incipient Puritan leanings. Hooker obtained his master's degree in 1577, and became assistant professor of Hebrew. In 1581, Hooker became an Anglican clergyman, and married Jean Churchman from whom he eventually obtained six children. It was as a result of the obligations imposed upon him by this marriage that, in the words of Walton, Hooker "was drawn from the tranquility of his College; from that garden of piety, of pleasure, of peace, and sweet conversation; into the thorny wilderness of a busy world; into those corroding cares that attend a married priest, and a country parsonage; which was Drayton-Beauchamp in Buckinghamshire, not far from Aylesbury, and in the Diocese of Lincoln." (Walton, 31)
In 1585 he was appointed Master of the Temple Church which allowed him to be the spiritual guide of the Inns of Court in London, and exposed him to the English legal community. Hooker's appointment as Master of the Temple Church, "was the very beginning of those oppositions and anxieties" that came from engaging in theological controversy. (Walton, 34) His first theological controversy was battling the extreme predestination of the stern Calvinist theologian Walter Travers. After his first controversy, Hooker "grew daily into greater repute with the most wise and learned of the nation." (Walton, 67) Hooker became a stalwart defender of the Elizabethan settlement, and took the side of the Anglican conformists against the non-conforming Calvinists and Puritans, the latter movement which was just then budding. He was later appointed Subdean of Salisbury Cathedral, and Rector of St. Andrew's Boscomb in Wiltshire in the Diocese of Sarum.
In 1593, Hooker published the first book of his Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. (Subsequent volumes were published thereafter, with three volumes published posthumously.) In it he sought to defend the episcopal form of government of the Church of England against the presbyterian ideas of the Calvinists and the even more radical ideas of church government advanced by the Puritans. Though it would seem that the controversy that gave rise to Hooker's work would limit its applicability in the area of natural law and political philosophy, that is not the case because Hooker starts his work with fundamentals regarding law, order, and governance. And these fundamental principles apply regardless of whether one is analyzing ecclesiastical or civil law. In the area of the natural law, Hooker's importance is derived from the fact that his work "was deeply influenced by the medieval scholastic tradition represented by St. Thomas Aquinas, even while adapting this tradition to confront the new challenges of early modern political life." (Rosenthal, xvi) He is thus a "transitional figure" (Rosenthal, xvi) between the medieval and Enlightenment concepts of law and order, and a middling figure between the perennial Catholic doctrine of natural law and the more radical Protestant rejection of that doctrine, partial or entire, by Luther, Calvin and their followers.
After the publication of his first volume of his famous work, Hooker was appointed Rector of St. Mary's in Bishopsbourne in Kent, near Canterbury, in 1595, in which appointment he remained until his death. Hooker died there in Bishopsbourne in 1600, and is buried in the Churchyard of St. Mary's.
We may adequately enough summarize Hooker's contribution to the natural law and political science by quoting a recent scholar of his work, Alexander Rosenthal:
Upon his death in 1600, Hooker left a long and distinguished legacy. All sides of religious and political controversy in seventeenth century England recognized Hooker as a major figure whose authority could be employed to settle difficult disputes about theology. During the Restoration era, Hooker was essentially canonized as an almost infallible saint and doctor of the Anglican Church. Meanwhile, Whigs like Algernon Sidney, James Tyrrell, and especially John Locke turned to Hooker for their own, quite different, purposes. Hooker's status as a luminary of Anglican theology was more or less secure through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with Tractarians like John Keble (who guided a new publication of Hooker's works) and John Henry Newman celebrating Hooker as a proponent of the Via Media between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Meanwhile, Hooker's contribution to Whig constitutionalism was generally accepted (albeit in an often unreflective way) during this period.(Rosenthal, xv)
The Natural Law scholar, A. P. d'Entreves classifies Hooker as a "sixteenth-century Anglican example of seventeenth-century Catholic scholasticism." (Rosenthal, xiv)
The poet Sir William Cowper wrote Hooker's epitaph:
Though nothing can be spoke worthy his fame,
Or the remembrance of that precious name,
Judicious HOOKER; though this cost be spent
On him that hath a lasting monument
In his own books; yet ought we to express,
If not his worth, yet our respectfulness.
Church ceremonies he maintain'd; then why
Without all ceremony should he die?
Was it because his life and death should be
Both equal patterns of humility?
Or that, perhaps, this only glorious one
Was above all, to ask, why had he none?
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.'
The natural law doctrine is a philosophy of law that urges human law and human order to humble themselves and thereby to "sit up higher," to set their eyes on their fundamental source, and their fundamental end, namely, God and the Eternal Law, and to thus recognize both their fundamental limits and divine pedigree; at once to realize their humble limits and constraints with the glorious dignity and heights from whence they come and whither they go; to realize that, like all things human, they find their dignity and limits in the reason and will of the God most high.