Essay / On This Day

Today John Hooper was Burned (1555)

John Hooper They burned him at the stake, and he knew it was coming. John Hooper (born around 1500 – martyred February 9, 1555) was the bishop of Gloucester in the sixteenth century. When the Church of England pendulum swung back towards Roman Catholicism under Mary, Hooper was predictably high on the list of people who would have to die: He was outspoken, politically engaged, inflexibly conscientious, and very very Protestant.

He was so Protestant that he objected to some of Calvin’s early writings. He was so Protestant that only Bishop Ridley could perform his ordination service, and even he had trouble making the service and vows low-church enough to be permissible to Hooper. He was so Protestant that he strongly objected to ministers wearing priestly clothing in church: he called them Aaronic, Old Covenant symbols inappropriate for New Covenant ministry. Hooper argued his side of this first wave of the “vestment controversy” vigorously. He was so Protestant that it was the nonconformists and puritans would keep his works in circulation after his death.

Was Hooper too stubborn? Did he draw lines that didn’t need to be drawn, arguing over clothing? It’s a question worth investigating, but perhaps a bit tacky to ask such questions lightly of a genuinely Christian man who paid the full price for his convictions.

When the Catholic Mary Tudor came to power, it was only a matter of time before Hooper was imprisoned and executed.

One of Hooper’s most famous writings was a translation of Tertullian’s book To His Wife. But Hooper also had a wife, Anne, and he once wrote a letter to her reflecting on how to respond to the inevitable persecution. You might expect to learn a lesson from Hooper on the cost of obedience, but he was characteristically far more concerned about the cost of disobedience: He knew that disobedience came at the cost of a hardened heart and a reprobate mind. Here is the opening paragraph, a stately blast of Christian realism from a man who sealed his testimony with his death.

Our Saviour Jesus Christ, dearly beloved and my godly wife, in St Matthew’s gospel said to his disciples, that it was necessary slanders should come: and that they could not be avoided, he perceived as well by the condition of those that should perish and be lost for ever in the world to come, as also by their affliction that should be saved. For he saw the greatest part of the people would contemn and neglect whatsoever true doctrine or godly ways should be shewed unto them, or else receive it and use it as they thought good, to serve their pleasures, without any profit to their souls at all, not caring whether they lived as they were commanded by God’s word or not; but would think it sufficient to be counted to have the name of a Christian man, with such works and fruits of his profession and Christianity as his fathers and elders, after their custom and manner, esteem and take to be good fruits and faithful works, and will not try them by the word of God at all. These men, by the just judgment of God, be delivered unto the craft and subtilty of the devil, that they may be kept by one slanderous stumbling-block or other, that they never come unto Christ, who came to save those that were lost: as ye may see how God delivereth wicked men up unto their own lusts, to do one mischief after another, careless until they come into a reprobate mind, that forgetteth itself, and cannot know what is expedient to be done, or to be left undone, because they close their eyes, and will not see the light of God’s word offered unto them ; and being thus blinded, they prefer their own vanities before the truth of God’s word. Where as such corrupt minds be, there is also corrupt election and choice of God’s honour: so that the mind of man taketh falsehood for truth, superstition for true religion, death for life, damnation for salvation, hell for heaven, and persecution of Christ’s members for God’s service and honour.

Later, after some biblical exposition, he adds: “But these things, my godly wife, require rather cogitation, meditation, and prayer, than words or talk. They be easy to be spoken of, but not so easy to be used and practised.” Hooper’s letter is a classic short text, well worth reading.

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