God’s infinite love and mercy

Daily Reading for November 3 • Richard Hooker, Priest, 1600

Richard Hooker, who was born about the time Latimer died and who himself died three years before Elizabeth, comes nearer to being its definitive theologian than anyone else the Church of England has produced, with his Treatise on the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity being the nearest approximation to an Anglican summa. . . . . Hooker’s most prestigious appointment was to be as master of the Temple, the minister in charge of the old Norman round church of the Knights Templar in London that became a parish church when the Templar property was taken over by the Inns of Court of the Inner and Middle Temple. That position, however, had its built-in difficulties, since there was another cleric at the Temple in the position of reader who was employed to preach in the afternoon. The reader in question was Walter Travers, a Presbyterian minister of strict Calvinist persuasion who had been disappointed in not being made master himself. To some extent Travers enjoyed the support of the lawyers who were the parishioners of the Temple, because many of their profession were Puritans. At any rate, Travers began to use the time of his sermons in the afternoon to refute what Hooker had preached in the morning, especially his point that “the Church of Rome might be considered a part of Christ’s church whose members might be saved in spite of erroneous official teaching.” Thus the situation became what was classically defined by Thomas Fuller as Canterbury speaking in the morning and pure Geneva in the afternoon. . . .

Thomas Fuller, who heard both Hooker and Travers, gives an unencouraging report of the former’s delivery: “His voice was low, stature little, gesture none at all, standing stone-still in the Pulpit . . . . Where his eye was left fixed at the beginning, it was found fixed at the end of his Sermon.”

Yet the sermons were masterfully crafted. Hooker had full knowledge of rhetorical theory, and his sermons followed the pattern of a classical oration. His sentences had the periodic structure of Latin prose, so his style has been called “Ciceronian,” but his vocabulary was colloquial, candid, and intimate. His range of biblical citation and allusion was enormous. He was concerned with the “on-going struggle within the individual believer’s soul,” and his theme was God’s infinite love and mercy.

From A History of Preaching by O. C. Edwards (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2004).

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