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Memoirs of the Reformers - John Hooper (1495-1555)

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Bishop of Gloucester.

THIS very learned divine was born in Somersetshire, 1495. He was sent to Merton college, Cambridge, in 1514, about eighteen years of age, where he received his academical education under the tuition of his uncle John Hooper. He was admitted Bachelor of Arts, which was the highest degree he took at this university. What became of him from this time, for several years after, is uncertain. Some say he became a Cistercian monk, and continued so for some few years; but tired of a monastic life, he returned to Oxford, where he was converted by the writings of the German reformers, and became a zealous protestant.

In 1539, when the statute of the six articles was put in execution, he left Oxford, and became chaplain and steward to Sir Thomas Arundale, a gentleman of Devonshire, and a Roman catholic, who discovering that his chaplain was a reformer, declined, being his protector; which obliged him to fly to France. Here he continued among the Huguenots, till his dislike of some of their proceedings induced him to return to his own country; where he was known, and soon found it impossible to remain in safety. Accordingly he assumed the dress and character of a sailor, hired a boat, passed into Ireland, from thence into Holland, and onward to Switzerland. Bullinger had, by this time, succeeded Zwingli in the chair. He too had been forced into exile for the same cause, and therefore gave a very friendly reception to this persecuted stranger, who was famed for his great proficiency in the Greek and Hebrew languages. During his residence at Zurich, Hooper, by the advice of his friend Bullinger, married a Burgundian lady. But the accession of Edward VI. to the throne, and the happy consequences of that event, removing his apprehensions of danger, he once more set his face towards England; where he arrived in safety, arid settled m the metropolis. Here he preached to the people on various points contended for by the reformers, particularly on the impropriety of pluralities in the church. He possessed a singular sweetness of temper, and was highly respected by the re formers, particularly such as inclined to the Presbyterian form of government in the church. Hooper’s residence among foreigners, where the Presbyterian form of government was generally admitted, had given his mind a strong bias to that mode of discipline. He made the avoiding of all manner of superstition a matter of conscience, but was blamed for running into the opposite extreme, by opposing usages, which he himself acknowledged to be matter of indifference in themselves, and only became important in consequence of the injunctions of superiors. He was perfectly agreed with Cranmer and Ridley in the main points of the reformation, and equally zealous for its promotion; but having gone beyond their more limited views, they seem to have been doubtful of his principles. Hooper, however, was a worthy and conscientious man, had an unblemished reputation, but singularly averse to every thing that had the appearance of useless pageantry and parade. He was a person of noble parts, singularly versed in the learned languages, a good philosopher, but a far greater theologist; considered, however, by his adversaries, too rigid a disciplinarian. He was now appointed chaplain to the duke of Somerset, and most probably treated with more severity on that account, after his patron came to lose the protectorship. In 1549 he accused bishop Bonner, who was deprived of his bishopric. This rendered him obnoxious to the government of Queen Mary.

After Hooper had practiced himself some time in his popular mode of preaching, he was called to preach before the king, who, in 1550, made him bishop of Gloucester; and about two years thereafter gave him the bishopric of Worcester, to keep along with the former in commendam. The earl of Warwick recommended him to this preferment, as a man possessed of all the qualifications required by Paul in a good bishop.

It was customary, at this time, for the bishops of England to wear the same, or similar garments, to those worn by the Romish clergy:—a chymere, and under it a white rochet, then a mathematical cap with four angles, representing the world divided into four equal parts. These sacerdotal vestments Hooper considered as worse than useless, having been chiefly invented for the celebration of the mass, and used in that idolatrous service, he refused to wear them. Cranmer defended the vestments, on the ground that they were indifferent things in themselves, and having been long used in the church, and admitted by the church of England, it became necessary that Hooper should conform to the law. Hooper absolutely refused a rochet; and Cranmer would not consecrate him without one. But the earl of Warwick, whose influence at court was, at that time, very powerful, wrote to the archbishop, requesting him not to insist on these ceremonies with Hooper, nor charge him with an oath burdensome to his conscience. Some have conceived this to be the oath of supremacy; others, with greater probability, think it refers to the oath of canonical obedience to the archbishop, which naturally, at least in the present case, regarded the ceremonies in question. Warwick likewise prevailed on the king to write Cranmer on the same subject; which he did to the following effect: That he, the king, had chosen Hooper to the bishopric of Gloucester, in consideration of his great learning, deep judgment, and long study, both in the scriptures and other profound sciences, which, together with his ready utterance, great discretion and honest life, peculiarly fitted him for such a vocation. Understanding also that certain ceremonies, ‘used in the consecration to the office of bishop, are offensive to his conscience, and that you hesitate to let them pass on the present occasion, lest you should fall in premiere of law; we have thought good, therefore, to dispense and discharge you from all dangers, pains, and forfeitures, for so omitting any of said ceremonies. This letter was dated August 1550, and signed by the duke of Somerset and five other lords of council. But Cranmer insisted that Hooper should conform; and, in the meantime, debarred him from preaching, while the council confined him to his own house. After many arguments had been used on both sides, Hooper published a confession of his faith, wherein he complained of the privy council; upon which he was committed to the custody of the archbishop, who endeavored in vain to wean him from his singularities. After this, he was, by an order of the council, lodged in the Fleet prison, where he remained till some time the following year. At last Hooper was deserted by his protector, the earl of Warwick, and brought before the council to explain himself on the difficulties he had started. Here he strongly objected to the, oath to which his conformity would subject him, inasmuch as every oath ought to be sworn in the name of God, and of him alone; whereas that by which he was to be consecrated, was to be done in the name of God, the saints, and holy gospels. The king allowed that Hooper was in the right, and struck out the obnoxious words with his own hand, with a declaration, that an oath ought to be taken in the name of no creature whatsoever. The matter of the vestments was then compromised; Hooper was to wear them at his consecration, when he preached before the king, in his own cathedral, and on all public occasions; other ceremonies were dispensed with. On these terms he was consecrated in the usual form, but lost much of his popularity by his acquiescence. This squabble introduced a controversy into the church of England, which, in place of subsiding, has increased with its years, and driven a large proportion of the people away from the dominant religion.

Thus Hooper was at last consecrated bishop of Gloucester; from which time forward he neglected the use of no means, within his reach, to train up his flock in the fear of God, and in the knowledge of the gospel of his grace. To the poor he was a powerful protector, and an hospitable benefactor. He preached the word of truth in season and out of season; was indefatigable in rebuking, comforting, and instructing the people, and regarded with universal love and esteem.

In 1553 the good king Edward died, and the protestant religion in England was totally subverted. Hooper was one of the first sent for by Queen Mary to answer for his conduct in accusing her favorite bishop Bonner. In this precarious state of things, Hooper was advised to make his escape, but having determined to meet the storm, he replied, that once before he had taken to his heels, but that now he had resolved to remain, and live or die with his sheep. Accordingly he was brought to London by a pursuivant, and had a very unchristian reception from the bishop of Winchester, who committed him to prison in the Fleet. Here he remained several months, during which he was several times examined and admonished to recant, but held fast to the profession of his faith without wavering. Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, and Ferrar, were imprisoned about the same time; while the archbishop of York, and the bishops of Bristol, Chester, and St. Davids, were deprived of their benefices for being married. The sees of Lincoln, Hereford, and Gloucester, were declared vacant, because these bishops, according to the new doctrine, had misbehaved.

And now the queen’s new council began to proceed with vigor to put down what they called heresy, and to punish, according to the usage of the Roman church, all obstinate heretics; when Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer, were dispatched to the convocation at Oxford, on the pretence of disputing with some of their members; where they all suffered martyrdom.

The council having carried their purpose, on this occasion, so much to their own satisfaction, several bishops, and other eminent clergymen confined in Newgate, the Fleet, and the King’s Bench prison, were intended for the victims of a similar stratagem to be played off at Cambridge; but the prisoners emitted a declaration, signed by Hooper, Ferrar, Coverdale bishop of Exeter, and seven divines, stating that they would not dispute unless by writing, excepting before the queen and her council, or one of the houses of parliament. To this declaration they added a summary of their belief, for which, they farther declared, that they were ready ,to offer their lives to the halter or the flames, as it might please God to appoint. This bold measure put an end to all future conferences in religion; their enemies, however, found other more efficacious means to silence them.

It were endless, as well as unpleasant, to enumerate the hardships, deprivations, expulsions, examinations, and imprisonments to which the protestants, clergy and laity, women and men, were now subjected. The parliament supported the government, which drove on with more fury than good policy or discretion; and nothing was now to be heard but oratorial rant and florid declamations in favor of good old holy mother church, nothing to be seen on the streets but popish pageants, and pillories occupied by protestants. But all these pompous exhibitions could not amuse, nor could their severities terrify or damp the spirit of the people.

Gardiner cheerfully undertook the execution of the laws against heretics; but the council, finding that the people were neither to be terrified nor cajoled out of their religion, determined to sacrifice the most popular of their preachers, as the first examples of what others had to expect, who held out against the Roman faith; and that Hooper, the most obnoxious to government, and perhaps also the most popular, should be made the leading sacrifice.

He was called before the council, in consequence of this arrangement, on the 21st January 1555, where he was offered a pardon, not as bishop of Gloucester, but as John Hooper, clerk, providing he would acknowledge his heresies, recant and return to the bosom of the apostolic church. Hooper, on refusing to comply with the terms proposed, was charged with three articles of heresy, relating to marriage and divorce, and particularly with denying the real presence of Christ in the sacrament of the altar. He owned the charges brought against him, but offered to defend himself against all or any that would maintain the contrary doctrine. He behaved, on this occasion, with the greatest propriety towards the bishops; who nevertheless treated him with unmannerly scurrility, and remanded him to prison.

As none had been more active or successful than Hooper in promoting the cause of reformation, he had thereby incurred the personal hatred of the popish and bloodthirsty bishops of London and Winchester; but he braved their malice, and in the face of every danger openly avowed his sentiments, and conducted himself with all the constancy of a primitive martyr. He kept up a correspondence with several of the protestants abroad, particularly with Bullinger, to whom he sent his wife Anne and her children. Bullinger wrote Trim a long letter from Zurich, dated October 10th, 1554, wherein he requests Hooper to commend him to the most reverend fathers and confessors of Christ, Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer, exhorting them all to be strong in the Lord, to fight a good fight, and be faithful to the end inasmuch as they had Christ for their captain, and all the prophets, apostles, and martyrs, for their fellow soldiers. On the 82d of January he was again brought before the commissioners, where he was required to acknowledge the pope as head of the church. This he refused to do, seeing the pope taught a doctrine in every respect contrary to, and subversive of, that taught by Christ, who was the only foundation, corner, and cope stone of God’s building of mercy, the true church of Christ, who heareth the voice of her own husband, and his only, but listeneth not to the voice of strangers. He was ordered back to the Fleet, and brought before them again on the 28th, together with Mr. John Rogers, vicar of St. Sepulcher’s, and reader of St. Paul’s. They were both examined, and ordered to be brought back next morning, in hopes that the awful sentence, with which they were threatened, might induce them to relent; but they had not so learned Christ. On their way to the Compter, whither they were conducted by the sheriff of London, Hooper said to Rogers, Come, brother Rogers, must we two lead the way in this affair, and be the first to fry these faggots? Yes, sir, said Rogers I think we must, and by God’s grace we will. Fear not, said Hooper, but God will give grace sufficient for the occasion.

Next morning they were brought before the commissioners, who sat in judgment in St. Mary Overy’s church, where Hooper, who would by no means yield to their proposal of pardon, was condemned to be degraded, and sent to the Clink, a prison near to Gardiner’s house; from whence he was, that same night, removed to Newgate, where he was kept close prisoner for six days.

As he was guarded along the streets, the people prayed for him, and dared to express their approbation of his integrity at the risk of their own safety, in the face of his enemies and persecutors. During the few days that Hooper remained in Newgate, Bonner and his chaplains paid him several visits, using all means to recover him to the faith of their own church. They offered him wealth and preferment; which he rejected with scorn; and finding him inflexible, they meanly endeavored to ruin his reputation amongst the reformers, by spreading a report that he had given in his recantation. This at last reaching his ears, the good man was exceedingly grieved, and on the 2d of February, wrote a letter, assuring the world that the report was utterly groundless, that the more he had been persecuted, the more he was confirmed in the protestant faith; and that having heretofore taught the truths of God, and defended them both by his tongue and pen, so, in a short time, he would, by the grace of his Saviour, seal them with his blood.

Bonner came to Newgate to perform the ceremony of degradation on Hooper, who was designated a presbyter, as it seems the appellation of bishop was considered, by these bloody monsters, an epithet too honorable for one who despised the holy vicar of Christ. Here Bonner, by his definitive sentence, pronounced him an open, obstinate, and incorrigible heretic, and as such to be degraded from his order, and for these his demerits delivered over to the secular power. Rogers was degraded at the same time; and, as we have already seen, died a martyr at Smithfield; but the sapient bishop of Winchester was determined, since he had failed in his endeavors to convert Hooper to his own religion, he should at least terrify the hearers of his doctrine by the severity of his torments; with this view he was appointed to be burnt in his own diocese. But the bishop was miserably disappointed, for the composure, fortitude, and dignified serenity with which he suffered, served to confirm the faith of the spectators, and convince them, that the cause for which such a learned and wise man could so cheerfully relinquish the honors and affluence of the world, and thus submit to a death of all others the most inconceivably tormenting, must be good.

In the order for his removal and execution at Gloucester, “the sheriff is directed to call in people of respectability to assist at the execution; farther adding, that as the prisoner was a vainglorious person, as all heretics are, that he should not be permitted to speak at large, neither on the road nor at the place of execution. He was highly pleased that his death had been appointed to take place at Gloucester, that those who heard his doctrines while living, might witness his sealing their veracity with his blood, not doubting but the Lord would enable him to finish his service like a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

On the 5th of February, in the morning, while it was yet dark, he was brought to Fleet Street, where a body of the queen’s guard received and escorted him to Gloucester. There he found all the citizens assembled to see him, who expressed their sorrow for his situation in tears of bitter lamentation. Next morning some of his friends were permitted to see him, amongst whom was Sir Anthony Kingston, who found the good bishop at his prayers, and burst into tears, while he thus addressed him. I understand you are brought here to die; but, alas! sir, consider that life is sweet, and death bitter; and seeing life can be obtained, accept of it for the present, hereafter it may do much good. I am indeed come here to suffer death, said Hooper, because I will not gainsay the truths I have formerly taught in this diocese and elsewhere. I do not so much regard this death, nor so highly esteem this life, but that I have finally resolved, through the strength of God’s holy Spirit, to pass through the torments of the fire prepared for me, rather than deny the truths of his word. The same night he was committed to the sheriffs of Gloucester, who, together with the mayor and aldermen, attended him with great respect. He thanked them for their civility, and requested the sheriff that there might be a quick fire, that the business might be short. I am not come here, said he, like one constrained to die; it is well known I had the offer, not only of life, but also wealth and preferment; but I am come willingly to offer and give my life for the truth, rather than consent to the wicked and papistical religion of the bishop of Rome, received, set forth, and supported by the magistrates of England to the dishonor and high displeasure of God; and I trust tomorrow I shall die a faithful servant of Christ, and a loyal subject to the queen. He was not carried to the common jail, but lodged in the house of Mr. Robert Ingram, where he spent the night in devotion. About eight next morning, the commissioners appointed to superintend the execution came to the house, and at nine the bishop was brought down from his chamber by the sheriffs, who led him betwixt them to the stake. It was marketday, and about seven thousand people assembled; which observing, alas! said he, Why are all these people here? Perhaps they expect to hear something of what they have heard from me in time past; but, alas! • my mouth is now closed for ever, I am prohibited from uttering a word that can be of any service. But they know the cause for which I suffer. While I was their pastor, I preached and taught them the true and sincere doctrines of the word of God; and because I will not now declare the same to be heresy and a lie has this death been prepared for me. He was dressed in a gown of his landlord’s, with a hat on his head, and a staff in his hand; as the sciatica, which he had contracted in prison, made him halt. He looked very pleasantly on such persons as he knew; but the multitude mourned for him all the way. When he came to the stake, which was opposite the college of Priests where he used to preach, he beheld the dreadful preparations with the utmost composure. When the iron work was brought, he desired them to take it away, saying, I doubt not that God will give me strength to abide the extremity of the fire without binding. The place was surrounded with spectators, and the priests of the college were in the chamber over the college gate. Thus denied the liberty of addressing the people, the bishop kneeled down to prayer, and beckoned to Mr. Bridges, whom he knew, to hear it; which he did with great attention, and afterwards reported, that it was made on the whole creed, wherein he continued about half an hour, and declared his faith in the form of a prayer; in the middle of which a box was laid before him on a stool, containing his pardon from the queen if he would recant. So soon as the bishop understood what lay before him, he cried out, If ye love my soul, away with it, away with it! He was then permitted to proceed in prayer, which he concluded with these words, “Lord, I am hell, but thou art heaven. Thou art a gracious and merciful Redeemer, have mercy therefore upon me a most miserable and wretched, offender, according to thy great mercy and inestimable goodness. Thou art ascended into heaven, receive me to be a partaker of thy joys, where thou sittest in equal glory with thy Father. Thou knowest for what I am come hither to suffer, and that the wicked persecute thy poor servant, not for my sins and transgressions against thee, but because I will not allow their wicked doings to the contaminating of thy blood, and the denial of the knowledge of thy truth, in which it pleased thee, by thy holy Spirit, to instruct me. Being thereunto called, with all the diligence so poor a creature could, thou knowest I have set forth thy glory. Thou seest, O my God, what terrible torments are prepared for thy poor creature, even such, O Lord, as none can patiently endure without thy strength; but what is impossible with man, is possible with thee. Strengthen me therefore in thy goodness, that I break not the rules of patience, or assuage the terror of pain, as shall seem fittest for thy glory.”

Having concluded his prayer, the bishop prepared himself for the fire, by undressing to the shirt, which he trussed between his legs. A flood of tears gushed from the eyes of the sorrowing multitude when they beheld him fastening to the stake. He pointed out the place where he wished the executioner to fire the faggots, which were soon kindled, but burnt badly; and the wind blowing away the flame, prevented it from rising so as to suffocate or destroy his vitals; and notwithstanding that additional faggots were brought, still the wind carried aside the flame, which occasioned him a lingering and most excruciating death. He lived in the fire for almost three quarters of an hour; and, according to Mr. Fox, without moving forward, backward, or to any side, till his under parts were consumed, and his bowels falling out; and even after one of his hands had dropped off, he continued to beat his breast with the other; nor ceased to pray and exhort the people, till his tongue, swollen with the violence of his agony, became incapable of utterance. During this terrible trial of faith and patience, he frequently cried out, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me; and the last words he was heard to utter were, Lord Jesus receive my spirit.

Thus perished, in the flames of a relentless popish persecution, John Hooper, the pious and learned bishop of Gloucester, on the 9th of February 1555, and in the sixtieth year of his age. An active promoter of the reformation, a good natured man, and an exemplary Christian, who in his life exposed the corruptions of the Romish church, and by his triumphant death discovered the weakness of her arm, and the impotence of her sanguinary malice.

The following sentiments are part of a letter written by Hooper while in prison.

“Imprisonment is painful, but liberty, on ill conditions, is worse. The prison stinks, yet not so much as the sweet houses where the fear of God is wanting. I must be alone and solitary; it is better so to be, and have God with me, than to be in bad company. The loss of goods is great, but the loss of grace and the favor of God is greater. I cannot tell how to answer before great men, and learned men; yet is it better to do that, than to stand naked before God’s tribunal. I shall die by the hands of cruel men; but he is blessed who loseth his life, and findeth life eternal. There is neither felicity nor adversity in the world that is great, if it be weighed with the joys and pains of the world to come.”

He wrote twenty-four books and treatises while in prison, also, on the Sacrament, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. The rest of his works are chiefly the following: An Answer to Gardiner’s Book, entitled, A Detection of the Devil’s Sophistry.—A Declaration of Christ and his Offices.— Lesson of the Incarnation of Christ.—Sermons on Jonas.—A Godly Confession and Protestation of the Christian Faith.— Homily, to be read in the time of the pestilence. All these were wrote from 1549 to 1553; and he afterwards wrote Epistola ad Episcopas, and an Exhortation to Patience, sent to his wife.— Sentences, wrote in prison.—Comfortable Expositions of the xxiii. lxii. and lxxiii. Psalms.—Annotations on the xiiith chapter of .the Romans.—Twelve Lectures on the Creed.—Declaration of the Ten Holy Commandments of Almighty God.—He also translated Tertullian’s Second Book to his Wife, concerning the choice of a husband.

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