Expository thoughts

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REV. J. C. RYLE, B.A.,

Vicar of Stradbroke, Suffolk.






I TURN from Hooper’s times to Hooper Himself. For dwelling so long on his times I think it needless to make any apology. You cannot rightly estimate a public man, unless you know the times in which he lived. You cannot duly appreciate an English Re­former, unless you understand the state of England before the Reformation. We have seen the state of things that Hooper and his companions had to deal with. Now let us find out something about Hooper himself.

John Hooper was born in the county of Somerset, in the year 1495, in the reign of Henry the Seventh. The parish in which he was born is not known, and not even a tradition has survived about it. In this respect Hooper and Rowland Taylor stand alone among the English martyrs. The birthplaces of Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Rogers, Bradford, Phi1pot, and Ferrar, have all been ascertained. The position which his family occupied in the county is alike unknown. There is, however, good reason for believing that his father was not a mere yeoman, but a man of con­siderable wealth.

The early history of this great Reformer is wrapped in much obscurity. He entered Merton College, Oxford, in 1514, at the age of nineteen, under the tuition of an uncle, who was then Fellow of that College. He took his degree as B.A. in 1518, at the age of twenty-three, and never afterwards proceeded to a higher degree. These are literally the only facts that have been discovered about the first twenty-three years of Hooper’s life. From 1518 to 1539,—a period of no less than twenty-one years,—we are again left almost entirely in the dark about Hooper’s history. There can be little doubt, however, that it was a most momentous crisis in his life, and gave a colour and bias to the whole man for the rest of his days. Tradition says, that after taking his degree at Oxford, he became a monk—first at the Cistercian Monastery of Old Cleve, near Watchet, in Somersetshire, and afterwards in another Cistercian house at Gloucester. Tradition adds, that he became wearied and disgusted with a monastic life, and withdrew from it to reside at Oxford; though at what precise date is not known.

It is some corroboration of these traditions, that when he was sentenced to death afterwards by Gardiner, he was described as “formerly a monk of the Monas­tery of Cleve, of the Cistercian order.” Yet it must be admitted that there is a conspicuous absence in his literary remains of any reference to his experience as a monk.

One thing, at any rate, is very certain about Hooper at this stage of his life. It was during these twenty-one years, between 1518 and 1539, that his eyes were opened to the false doctrines and unscriptural practices of Popery, though when and where we cannot exactly tell. He says himself, in a letter to Bullinger, the Swiss Reformer, that “when he was a courtier, and living too much of a court life in the palace of the King,” he met with certain writings of Zwingle, and certain commentaries of Bullinger on St. Paul’s Epistles, and that to the study of these books he owed his deliverance from Papacy, and the conversion of his soul. This deeply interesting letter will be found in the “Original Letters from Zurich,” published by the Parker Society. To the meaning, however, of the allusion to “a court life,” and “the palace of the King,” the letter, unfortunately, supplies no clue.

Another fact about Hooper at this period of his history is no less certain. He was obliged to leave Oxford in 1539, when the semi-Popish statute of the Six Articles, which made Latimer resign his Bishopric, was put in operation. Fox, the Martyrologist, distinctly asserts that his known attachment to the principles of the Reformation attracted the notice of the Oxford authorities, and specially of Dr. Smith, the Professor of Divinity. The consequence was, that he was com­pelled to retire from the University, and appears to have never resided there again.

On leaving Oxford, in 1539, Hooper became, for a short time, Steward and Chaplain in the household of Sir Thomas Arundel. Here also again his Protestant principles got him into trouble. His master liked him, but did not like his opinions. The consequence was, that he sent him to Bishop Gardiner with a private letter, in which he requested him to “do his Chaplain some good.” Gardiner, however, after four or five days’ conference, could make nothing of the sturdy Reformer, and utterly failed to shake his opinions. The end of the matter was (says Fox), “that he sent Sir Thomas his servant again, right well commending his learning and wit, but bearing in his heart a grudge against Master Hooper.” This grudge, unhappily, was not forgotten, and bore bitter fruit after many days.

The connection between Hooper and Sir Thomas Arundel did not last long after this. The Protest­ant Chaplain found that his life was not safe in England, and, like many of the good men of his day, withdrew to the Continent. There he appears to have lived for at least nine years, first at Strasburgh, afterwards at Bâle, and finally at Zurich. It was at this period of his life, no doubt, that he became established in those clear, distinct views of doctrinal truth, which he afterwards so nobly maintained in his own country. At this period, too, he formed friend­ships with Bullinger, Bucer, A. Lasco, and other Con­tinental Reformers, whoever afterwards regarded him with deep affection. At this period, too, about the year 1546, he married a noble Burgundian lady, named Anna de Tzerclas, who seems to have been in every way a help-meet for him.

In 1547 Henry the Eighth died, and Edward the Sixth commenced his short but glorious reign. Soon after this Hooper began to feel it his bounden duty to give his aid to the work of the Protestant Reformation in his own country, and after taking an affectionate leave of his Zurich friends, set out on his return to England. His parting words were painfully prophetic and deeply touching. They told him they fully ex­pected that he would rise to a high position in his native land; they hoped he would not forget his old friends; they begged him to write to them sometimes. In reply, Hooper assured them that he should never forget their many kindnesses; promised to write to them from time to time; and concluded with the following memorable words: “The last news of all, Master Bullinger, I shall not be able to write. For there, where I shall take most pains, there shall ye hear of me to be burnt to ashes. That shall be the last news, which I shall not be able to write to you. But you shall hear it of me.”

Hooper arrived in London in May, 1549, and was gladly received by the friends of the Reformation, which, in the face of immense difficulties, Cranmer and Ridley were slowly pressing forward. He came like a welcome reinforcement in the midst of an arduous campaign, and mightily strengthened the cause of Protestantism. His reputation, as a man of sound­ness, learning, and power, had evidently gone before him. He was very soon appointed Chaplain to the Protector, the Duke of Somerset. With characteristic zeal he devoted himself at once to the work of teach­ing, and generally preached twice a day, and this with such marked acceptance that the churches could not contain the crowds that flocked to hear him. Even Dr. Smith, his enemy, confessed that “he was so much admired by the people that they held him for a prophet: nay, they looked upon him as a deity.”

Fox, the Martyrologist, who evidently knew Hooper well, bears the following testimony to his high character at this time, both for gifts and graces.—”In his doctrine he was earnest, in tongue eloquent, in the Scriptures perfect, in pains indefatigable. His life was so pure and good that no breath of slander could fasten any fault upon him. He was of body strong, his health whole and sound, his wit very pregnant, his invincible patience able to sustain whatsoever sinister fortune and adversity could do. He was constant of judgment, spare of diet, sparer of words, and sparest of time. In housekeeping he was very liberal, and sometimes more free than his living would extend unto. Briefly, of all those virtues and qualities required of St. Paul in a good Bishop, in his Epistle to Timothy, I know not one that was lacking in Master Hooper.”

A man of this mould and stamp was rightly esteemed the very man to make a Bishop in Edward the Sixth’s days. Within a year of his landing in England the prophecies of his Zurich friends were fulfilled. After preaching a course of Lent Sermons before the King, in 1550, John Hooper, the friend of Bullinger, the exile of Zurich, the most popular preacher of the day, was nominated to fill the vacant Bishopric of Gloucester. A wiser choice could not have been made. Rarely, too rarely, in the annals of the Church of England has there been such an instance of the right man being put in the right place.

Hooper’s nomination, however, brought him into a most unhappy collision with Cranmer and Ridley, on a very awkward subject. He steadily refused to take the oath which had been taken hitherto by Bishops at their consecration, and to wear the episcopal vestments which had hitherto been worn. The oath he objected to as flatly unscriptural, because it referred to the saints as well as God. The vestments he objected to as remnants of Popery, which ought to be clean put away.

A controversy arose at once between Hooper and his two great fellow-labourers, which delayed his consecration almost a whole year, and did immense harm. The more trifling and unimportant the original cause of dispute appeared to be, the more heated and obstinate the disputants became. In vain did Ridley confer and correspond with his recusant brother. In vain did Edward the Sixth and his Privy Council write to Cranmer, and offer to discharge him from all risk of penalties, if he would “let pass certain rites and ceremonies” offensive to the Bishop designate. In vain did foreign Reformers write long letters, and entreat both parties to concede something and give way. The contention grew so sharp that the Privy Council became weary of Hooper’s obstinacy, and actually committed him to the Fleet Prison! At length a compromise was effected. Hooper gave way on some points, for peace sake. He consented to wear the obnoxious vestments on certain public occasions,—at his consecration, before the King, and in his own Cathedral. The objectionable words in the Episcopal Oath were struck out by the King’s own hand. The prison gates were then thrown open, and to the great joy of all true Protestants, Hooper was consecrated Bishop of Gloucester on the 8th of March, 1551.

This miserable controversy between Hooper and his two great opponents, like all the disputes of good men, is a sorrowful subject. Of course it need not surprise us. The best of men are only men at their best. If Paul and Barnabas quarrelled until they parted company, and Peter and Paul came into open collision at Antioch, we must not judge our English Reformers too harshly, if they did not always agree. But it is vain to deny that this famous quarrel did great harm at the time, and sowed seeds which are bearing mischievous fruit down to this very day.

At the distance of three hundred years, I freely admit, we are poor judges of the whole case. Both parties undoubtedly were more or less in the wrong, and the only question is as to the side which was most to blame. The general verdict of mankind, I am quite aware, has been against Hooper. To this verdict, however, I must honestly say, I cannot subscribe. It is my deliberate conviction, after care­fully weighing the whole affair, that Hooper was most in the right, and Cranmer and Ridley were most in the wrong.

I believe the plain truth to be, that Hooper was much more far-sighted than his excellent fellow-labourers. He looked further ahead than they did, and saw the possibility of evils arising in the Church of England, of which they in their charity never dreamed. He foresaw, with prophetic eye, the im­mense peril of having nest-eggs for future Romanism within our pale. He foresaw a time when the Pope’s friends would take advantage of the least crevice left in the walls of our Zion; and he would fain have had every crack stopped up. He would not have left a single peg on which Romanizing Churchmen could have rehung the abominable doctrine of the mass. It is my decided opinion that he was quite right. Events have supplied abundant proof that his con­scientious scruples were well-founded. I believe, if Cranmer and Ridley had calmly listened to his ob­jections, and seized the opportunity of settling the whole question of “vestments” in a thoroughly Pro­testant way, it would have been a blessing to the Church of England! In a word, if Hooper’s views had been allowed to prevail, one half of the Ritualistic controversy would never have existed at all.1

Once delivered from this miserable controversy, Hooper commenced his episcopal duties without a moment’s delay. Though only consecrated on the 8th of March, 1551, he began at once to preach throughout the diocese of Gloucester with such dili­gence as to cause fears about his health. His wife, writing to Ballinger in the month of April, says: “I entreat you to recommend Master Hooper to be more moderate in his labours. He preaches four, or at least three times every day, and I am afraid lest these over-abundant exertions should cause a premature decay.” Of all the Edwardian Bishops, none seem to have made such full proof of his episcopal ministry as he did. Cranmer was naturally absorbed in work­ing out the great scheme of Reformation, of which he was the principal architect. Ridley, from his position in London, within reach of the Court and of Lambeth Palace, was necessarily often drawn aside to advise the King and the Primate. For really working a diocese, and giving a splendid pattern of what an English Protestant Bishop should be, the man of the times was John Hooper. We need not wonder that the Government soon gave him the charge of Wor­cester as well as the diocese of Gloucester. The willing horse is always worked, and the more a man does, the more he is always asked to do.

The state of Hooper’s clergy evidently gave him great trouble. We have already seen that many clergymen in the diocese of Gloucester were unable to repeat the ten commandments, and could not tell who was the author of the Lord’s prayer. Moreover, they were not only ignorant, but generally hostile to the doctrines of the Reformation. However, they were ready to conform to anything, and subscribe any­thing, so long as they were allowed to keep their livings. Hooper therefore drew up for them a body of fifty Articles of an admirable character, and re­quired every incumbent to subscribe them. He also supplied them with a set of excellent injunctions about their duties. Beside this he appointed some of the better sort to be superintendents of the rest, with a commission to watch over their brethren. It is difficult to see what more he could have done, however painful and unsatisfactory the state of things may have been. The best Bishops, with all their zeal, cannot give grace, or change clerical hearts.

The state of the laity in the diocese of Gloucester was just as unsatisfactory as that of the clergy. This, of course, was only natural. “Like pastors, like people.” With them he could of necessity do little, except reprove immorality, and check it, when pos­sible to do so. Of his firm and impartial conduct in this way, a remarkable example is given by John ab Ulmis, in one of the Zurich letters. He says, that Sir Anthony Kingston, a man of rank in Gloucester­shire, was cited by the Bishop to appear before him on a charge of adultery, and was severely repri­manded. He replied with abusive language, and even forgot himself so far as to use violence and blows in the court. But Hooper was unmoved. He reported the whole case to the Privy Council in London, and the result was that the Gloucestershire Knight was severely punished for his contumacy, and fined no less than £500, a very large sum in those days.

The state of the two Cathedrals of Gloucester and Worcester appears to have been as great a trial to Hooper as the state of the parochial clergy and laity. Curiously enough, even 300 years ago, Cathedral bodies seem to have been anything but helps to the Church of England. He says, in a letter upon this subject to Sir William Cecil, the King’s Secretary of State,—“Ah! Mr. Secretary, if there were good men in the Cathedral churches! God should then have much more honour than He hath now, the King’s majesty more obedience, and the poor people more knowledge. But the realm wanteth light in the very churches where of right it ought most to be.” He then concludes his letter with these touch­ing words: “God give us wisdom and strength wisely and strongly to serve in our vocations. There is none eateth their bread in the sweat of their face, but such as serve in public vocations. Yours, Mr. Secre­tary, is wonderful, but mine passeth. Now I perceive private labours be but play, and private work but ease and quietness. God be our help!”

After all, the best account of Hooper’s discharge of his episcopal duties, is to be found in that good old book well known by the title of “Fox’s Martyrs.” Fox was evidently a friend and admirer of Hooper, and writes about him with a very loving pen. But Fox may always be depended on for general accuracy. Bitterly as his many enemies have tried to vilify his great book, they have never succeeded in disproving his facts. They may have scratched the good man’s face, but they have never broken his bones. Froude, a thoroughly disinterested witness, has voluntarily declared his confidence in Fox’s trustworthiness. Townsend, in a lengthy preface to his excellent and complete edition of the “Acts and Monuments,” has answered seriatim the attacks of Fox’s enemies. In short, we may rest satisfied that those flippant modern writers who call Fox “a liar,” are only exposing their own ignorance, or their hatred of genuine Protestant­ism. Let us now hear how Fox describes Hooper’s ways as a Bishop, so long as his episcopate lasted. He says,—

“Master Hooper, after all these tumults and vex­ations sustained about his investing and princely vestures, at length entering into his diocese, did there employ his time, which the Lord lent him under King Edward’s reign, with such diligence as may be a spectacle to all Bishops which shall ever hereafter succeed him, not only in that place, but in whatso­ever diocese through the whole realm of England. So careful was he in his cure, that he left neither pains untaken, nor ways unsought, how to train up the flock of Christ in the true Word of Salvation, continually labouring in the same. Other men com­monly are wont, for lucre or promotion’s sake, to aspire to bishoprics, some hunting for them, and some purchasing or buying them, as men used to purchase lordships; and when they have them are loath to leave them, and thereupon are loath to commit that thing by worldly laws whereby to lose them.

“To this sort of men Master Hooper was clean contrary; who abhorred nothing more than gain, labouring always to save and preserve the souls of his flock. Who, being Bishop of two dioceses, so ruled and guided either of them, and both together, as though he had in charge but one family. No father in his household, no gardener in his garden, no husbandman in his vineyard, was more or better occupied than he in his diocese amongst his flock, going about his towns and villages in teaching and preaching to the people there.

“That time that he had to spare from preaching, he bestowed either in hearing public causes, or else in private study, prayer, and visiting of schools. With his continual doctrine he adjoined due and discreet correction, not so much severe to any as to them which for abundance of riches and wealthy state thought they might do what they listed. And doubtless he spared no kind of people, but was indifferent to all men, as well rich as poor, to the great shame of no small num­ber of men now-a-days. Whereas many we see so addicted to the pleasing of great and rich men, that in the mean time they have no regard to the meaner sort of poor people, whom Christ hath bought as dearly as the other.

“But now again we will return our talk to Master Hooper, all whose life, in fine, was such, that to the Church and all Churchmen it might be a light and example, to the rest, a perpetual lesson and sermon. Finally, how virtuous and good a Bishop he was, ye may conceive and know evidently by this, that, even as he was hated of none but of them which were evil, so yet the worst of them all could not reprove his life in any one jot.

“I have now declared his usage and behaviour abroad in the public affairs of the Church: and certainly there appeared in him at home no less example of a worthy prelate’s life. For though he bestowed and converted the most part of his care upon the public flock and congregation of Christ, for the which also he spent his blood; yet nevertheless there lacked no provision in him, to bring up his own children in learning and good manners; insomuch that ye could not discern whether he deserved more praise for his fatherly usage at home, or for his Bishop-like doings abroad. For everywhere he kept one religion in one uniform doctrine and integ­rity. So that if you entered into the Bishop’s palace, you would suppose yourself to have entered into some church or temple. In every corner thereof there was some smell of virtue, good example, honest conversa­tion, and reading of holy Scriptures. There was not to be seen in his house any courtly rioting or idleness: no pomp at all, no dishonest word, no swearing could there be heard!

“As for the revenues of both his Bishoprics, although they did not greatly exceed, as the matter was handled, yet if anything surmounted thereof, he pursed nothing, but bestowed it in hospitality. Twice I was, as I remember, in his house in Worcester, where, in his common hall, I saw a table spread with a good store of meat, and beset full of beggars and poor folk. And I asking his servants what this meant, they told me that every day their lord and master’s manner was to have customably to dinner a certain number of the poor folk of the said city, by course, who were served by four at a mess, with whole and wholesome meats. And when they were served (being before examined by him or his deputies, of the Lord’s Prayer, the Articles of their faith, and the Ten Commandments) then he himself sat down to dinner, and not before.2

“After this sort and manner Master Hooper executed the office of a most careful and vigilant pastor, by the space of two years and more, so long as the state of religion in King Edward’s time did safely flourish and take place. And would God that all other Bishops would use the like diligence, care, and observance in their function.”

1 It is a pleasing fact, that at a later date there seems to have been a complete reconciliation between Hooper and Ridley, if in­deed there ever was a real breach. When Ridley was in prison, in Queen Mary’s reign, he wrote as follows to Hooper : “My dear brother, we thoroughly agree and wholly consent together in those things which are the grounds and substantial points of our religion, against which the world so furiously rageth in these days. In time past, by certain by-matters and circumstances of religion, your wisdom and my simplicity hath a little jarred, each of us following the abundance of his own sense and judgment. But now I say, be you assured, that with my whole heart, God is my witness, I love you in the truth, and for the truth’s sake!”

2 It must be remembered that there was no poor law in those days.

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