John Hooper was born in 1495 during the reign of Henry VII. He was born in the county of Somerset but his actual birthplace is not known. He went up to Merton College in Oxford in 1514 and graduated with a BA in 1518.
There is virtually nothing known of the history of John Hooper in the next twenty one years. However, it was during that period that he came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. A great influence leading to his conversion was his reading books written by Zwingli and the Commentary of Paul’s Letters by Johan Bullinger of Zurich.
Pox’s Book of Martyrs tells us the Hooper’s love for and knowledge of the Scriptures compelled him to leave Oxford. He moved to the household of Sir Thomas Arundel who retained him as his steward. Sir Thomas liked John Hooper as a person but did not follow or agree with his Christian views. As a consequence he left Sir Thomas’ employment and travelled to Paris. After staying there for just a short while he returned to England and served in the household of a Mr Sentlow.
John Hooper continued to voice his strong views and he believed that the reforms in the Church in England had not gone far enough. He began to attract the attention of Henry VIII and as a result fled to the Continent.
One of the things he said was, “our king has destroyed the pope but not the papacy”. On the Continent he met Bullinger and other reformers and through these contacts, he became more reformed in his thinking. In particular he came to be concerned that the church must be purified according to the Scriptures. He made visits to Germany, Basle and Zurich. During this period, in 1546, he met and married a Burgundian lady by the name of Anna de Tzarclan and their marriage was described as a very happy one.
In 1547 Henry VIII died and was succeeded by his son Edward VI. Hooper felt a call to return to his homeland and he arrived back in England in May 1549. His reputation as a man of soundness and doctrine had gone before him. As a result he was approached and appointed as a chaplain to the Protector, the Duke of Somerset. He preached, usually twice a day, and crowds flocked to hear him.
In 1550 he was nominated to be the next Bishop of Gloucester. He had preached a series of long sermons before the king prior to his nomination. Hooper’s time on the Continent had shown him how much the English Church had to reform. He had learned much from the Continental Reformers but critics say that he made no allowance for the slow growth in England. Some have accused him of having a harsh spirit. Hooper has been described as an aggressive and advanced reformer. In Hooper’s defence it must be said he was deeply distressed over the corrupt condition of the church and he longed for the New Testament pattern to be restored. In 1550 he was offered the position of Bishop of Gloucester. He wanted the appointment so that he would be in a position to put into practical effect his ideas. Hooper had no time and very little patience for what he considered “footling ceremonies and foolish superstitions”. In fact, he believed them sinful and he was not willing to compromise. John Hooper was no pragmatist. Concerning the wearing of vestments, he considered them contrary to Scripture. He could not wear what he thought were obnoxious garments and offend his conscience. As a result he resisted the call to take up the appointment as Bishop of Gloucester. He quarrelled with Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London. Hooper also objected to the new Prayer Book Service. He objected to taking an oath which involved the invocation of the Saints. He was also unhappy with the way that the Bible was paraded and the exact instructions of how it was to be held. It believed it wrong to hold up the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper. He would have nothing to do with things he saw as contrary to Scripture or things that were added to Scripture. However, the main argument was concerning the wearing of vestments. He maintained that the practice was a leftover from the Levitical priesthood of Aaron. That priesthood was abolished in the Gospel. These garments smacked of Roman Catholicism, in Hooper’s words, papistical. Vestments belonged to the Antichrist. No New Testament Church in doctrine and practice could countenance such a thing. King Edward VI became concerned over the delay and intervened in the situation. The oath that Hooper was required to swear and objected to consisted of words decreed by Henry VIII. This included mention of the Saints, placed in association with God. King Edward himself struck out these words, much to Hooper’s delight. Then Cranmer and Ridley threatened Hooper. Legal advice was taken and the advice that was given was to do this Hooper’s way. But Bishop Ridley said no. The law of king, church and parliament must be obeyed. At first Ridley sought to respond to Hooper’s demands. Hooper was asked to consider the issue and think on the following.
Was the government of the church solely declared in Scripture or was there a place for a ruling by the State? Does the State have the right to regulate the church? These are major issues for today. Ridley then made an offer to consecrate Hooper wearing anything he liked, if Hooper would drop his assertion that vestments were sinful. Hooper refused. On the 20th December 1550 Hooper published his confession of faith. Hooper was placed under house arrest in Lambeth Palace. On the 27th January 1551 he was put into the Fleet Prison. After a month or so Hooper submitted. It was not cowardice. He had persuaded himself that he could do much good in the reformation of the church. He was consecrated Bishop of Gloucester on the 8th March 1551. On taking up his ministry he discovered the ignorance that abounded in his diocese. In his own words he found “inhospitable, non resident, inefficient, drunken and evil living incumbents”. He did a survey7 of 311 clergy. Nine didn’t know that there were Ten Commandments; thirty two didn’t know where they were found in the Bible, one hundred and sixty eight could not state the Ten Commandments; ten could not recite the Lord’s Prayer and thirty didn’t know that the Lord Jesus Christ was the author of that prayer.
In 1553 Edward VI died and Mary Tudor ascended to the throne. Mary was a staunch Roman Catholic and was determined to bring and restore the Roman Catholic religion in England. Hooper was soon arrested and imprisoned in the Fleet Prison. He was examined a number of times by Gardiner, Bonner and others who sought to make him recant. They failed as Hooper stood firm holding to his protestant convictions and principles. Fox’s Book of Martyrs tells us that he was eventually condemned for holding the view that it was right for priests to marry and denying the doctrine of transubstantiation. On the 5th February 1553 he began his final journey to Gloucester, arriving there on the 7th. Between then and his execution he spent much time in prayer. Saturday the 9th was the day set for his execution. A number of people came to visit him in a Mr Ingram’s home (where he was lodged) including Sir Anthony Kingston, the Mayor and the Sheriffs of Gloucester. On the 9th he was led out to his execution a description of which can be read in Fox’s Book of Martyrs.
John Hooper was a man ahead of his time. He was the forerunner of the Puritans. He was certainly not perfect but he was a man of principle ho was willing to die for his Christian beliefs.