The debates between the Master of the Temple Church, Richard Hooker and his Deputy Walter Travers between 1585-1586 sparked off controversies which are still unsettled. The original subject matter, however, has been radically altered through changing theological fashions and back-projections of subsequent controversies. The original discussions arose through differences regarding preaching and lecturing, public worship, predestination, justification, the Lord’s Supper, and the fate of those dying outside of the Protestant fold. Modern debates have turned the Temple Controversy into a discussion about the pros and cons of Presbyterianism and Episcopacy which were not even mentioned in the original debate. Sadly, history is rejected and Hooker and Travers are given fictive roles on an imaginary stage, using artificial scripts reminiscent of the Anti-Episcopalian, politico-religious debates of the Dissenting Revolution of 1640-60.

     When Master of the Temple, Dr Richard Alvey became ill in 1581, Bishop John Aylmer suggested Travers should assist Alvey as a factotum on a small salary until Alvey could resume his office. When Alvey died in 1584, Travers’ post and livelihood were thus endangered. The procedure of nominating a successor was unclear. Archbishop Whitgift felt he was responsible for clerical appointments but the Crown had the ownership, so Queen Elizabeth argued that finding a new Master was her task. However, certain noblemen who were using their patronages at the time to consolidate their political and ecclesiastical powers against the Crown, insisted that the appointment of bishops and lectureships was their ancient right. Hooker saw patronages as the greatest evil the churches faced at the time and wished them abolished. Travers and his mentor Thomas Cartwright, however, had a different view of the church, its ministry and pastoral care. They had an exaggerated respect for aristocracy and thus welcomed church rule by rich patrons. Thus, when the Temple Mastership became vacant, Lord Burghley, immediately recommended Travers for the post, leaving Archbishop Whitgift and the Queen without immediate candidates. Travers, appeared to show no interest himself. Perhaps he felt he had spoilt his chances due to his abolishing the Reformed method of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Instead of sitting or kneeling around the Table, Travers dispensed with the table altogether, inviting communicants to walk up the aisles in single file to receive the elements from a standing priest and then troop in single file back in Roman Catholic fashion. Travers also dispensed with most prayers and all responses and Scripture readings to provide more time for his lectures. He also protested that laymen should not be allowed to be sidesmen and ushers but only elders and deacons.

     Whitgift now put forward Dr. Nicholas Bond the future President of Magdalen College, Oxford, as his candidate and the Reformed Archbishop Sandys of York came to the Queen’s help by recommending Richard Hooker who was personally well-known to him and who had tutored Sandys’ son. As little could be found in favour of Bond and Travers and Hooker appeared to be the best qualified man for the task, the Queen gave Hooker the post. Hooker immediately asked that Travers should be made his Deputy and thus secured an employment and salary for him. Most Presbyterians of today, who claim that Travers was their forerunner, believe Whitgift was the sole factor behind Hooker’s appointment. This is not so. Whitgift, officially gave Hooker his clerical powers but the appointment was the Queen’s.

     Things went wrong from the start. Hooker prepared a sermon to open his ministry but Travers objected. He claimed that he represented the old Mastership, and it was thus his task to formally ask the congregation’s approval of Hooker and if this were positive, inaugurate him. Naturally, Hooker felt this was a breach of practice and Travers was reversing the two men’s offices, giving himself an importance not justified by his lesser appointment past and present. Travers had never been more than a reader. He therefore rejected Travers’ move. Travers was obviously angered at this, so members told him to meet up with Hooker to clear the air. Instead, Travers, complained to the gathered church that their new minister taught contrary to the gospel as he knelt in prayer and prayed before the sermon instead of after. Travers had developed a strict and rigid form of service which he believed was essential to the gospel. From now on, for over a year, Hooker expounded the Word in his Sunday morning services and Travers pulled Hooker’s sermon to pieces in his afternoon lecture. Hooker, he argued, taught that God’s will concerning sin was not causative but permissive. Sinners, according to Hooker, are condemned because they have sinned on their own responsibility and not because God has willed them to sin. In other words, Hooker followed the life-bringing teaching of the English Reformers, whereas Travers followed that of the Heidelberg Hyper-Calvinists who founded a religion based on rigid externals and a cold and heartless legal discipline for both saints and sinners depending on a Supralapsarian fatalism. Hooker’s preaching was evangelistic and designed to woo the sinner to Christ. Travers discipline was designed to protect the believer from the world, the flesh and the devil by a legal straight-jacket. Then Travers criticised Hooker’s view of the Scriptures. Hooker taught that God’s Word moved no sinner unless the Author-Spirit awakened him through it so that he would realise his fallen state and turn to Christ for life. Travers said this was wrong. The believer was obliged to believe on hearing the Word, irrespective of any inner working of God in the individual. Hooker thus emphasised evangelical experience and experimental religion but Travers emphasised a religion of submission to a mere mental acknowledgement and submission to what God says in His Word, despite his fallen state. Paradoxically enough, Travers was against Hooker’s practice of the public reading of Scriptures, arguing that the Scriptures must be explained. Indeed, in most of Travers’ criticisms of Hooker were full of contradictions, showing how he had been too quick to criticise. Hooker preached that justifying faith is God’s gift of faith in Christ and not in blind acceptance of the Word. Blind eyes cannot read God’s Word unless they are opened and given sight.

     After these harsh but superficial attacks had continued for a year, things came to a head when Hooker preached on the Church’s triumph from New Testament times to the present. This was the last straw for Travers who believed that there was no church outside of his own rigid, little accepted, legal religion so there could have been no Church between New Testament times and his own. Outside of his narrow view of God’s grace, there could be no salvation. Again, Travers was not consistent in his thinking. Though he sought to prove from Scripture that a man dying within the Roman Catholic Church could not possibly be saved, he yet was open to the idea that God could save some in spite of the historical and ecclesiastical situation they were in. This had been Hooker’s point all along so Travers’ bluster was either argument for argument’s sake or he had not thought the matter through. S. J. Knox relates how Hooker received all this filibustering with patience and calmness without any opposition and explains how surprised Travers must have been when one Sunday morning, Hooker gave out the very texts Travers had used against Hooker and expounded them in context, adding that if the Galatians who wanted to keep circumcision believed that Christ’s righteousness was the only meritorious cause of taking away sin, but differed to others in their outward demonstration of it, he could fellowship with them. Here, Hooker stretched his hand out to the Church Fathers and to his Presbyterian friends such as Travers, who, according to Grindal, Jewel, Foxe and Whitgift were reintroducing popish dogmas into the Reformed Church. Travers responded in the afternoon, again condemning Hooker but summed up his own sermon by paradoxically saying, ‘I confirmed the believing the doctrine of justification by Christ only, to be necessary to the justification of all that should be saved’. This was exactly Hooker’s argument.

     The next time Travers entered the Temple Church to rail against Hooker, he was handed a note, saying that his ministry was no longer required. Knox, giving Whitgift the responsibility, comments, ‘few can say that his action was unjustifiable’. It is certain that Hooker, who had asked for Travers to be allowed to stay at the Temple, was not behind his dismissal. Travers immediately solicited Burghley’s help to regain his post but the Lord Treasurer merely advised him on correct procedure. Travers now begged Whitgift to reinstate him under his protection. Whitgift said he would readily do so if Travers accepted ordination as a Church of England clergyman. This was rather hard and would have been unnecessary if Travers had accepted a mere lectureship, but Travers demanded the leadership and Hooker’s ejection and rejected Whitgift’s offer. Travers refused to give up his lodgings in the Temple or worship elsewhere. He then sought to intimidate Hooker by attending his preaching, making notes of all his disagreements. These, he sent to Whitgift, again complaining that Hooker was not fit for his post. As it was no secret that Whitgift, as Jewel before him, viewed the pope as Antichrist, the Archbishop read Travers’ animadversions against Rome with sympathy but concluded that Hooker’s views were a just representation of the Christian faith. The fact was that Whitgift was a far more thorough-going Puritan than Travers doctrinally speaking but just as rigid on the other side for order and discipline. Nevertheless, Travers would not give up and forwarded a Supplication made to the (Privy) Council outlining 15 points against Hooker, begging to be reinstated. Hooker was compelled to reply with his Answer to the Supplication that Mr Travers made to the Council, explaining that Travers had been too hasty in his Sunday afternoon denunciations of his Sunday morning sermons and had misapplied them. For instance, Hooker’s words concerning Divine reason had been interpreted by Travers as meaning human reason. Hooker’s answer was accepted by nearly all quarters and many Puritans turned away from Travers, especially when he stubbornly started to petition Parliament to have his version of the Book of Discipline accepted in all the country’s churches and the Book of Common Prayer banned. Travers did not reply to Hooker’s Answer but remained at the Temple to torment his relative and former friend. Hooker wrote to Whitgift, saying how much he had personally profited from Travers’ attacks and how it had made him think over his faith in the light of Scripture most carefully. This had led him to realise how necessary it was to have a full and comprehensive handbook, justifying the doctrines and practice of the Church of England and he had started work on his Ecclesiastical Polity to that end. Thus Travers has made a name for himself in history as the man who gave rise to the greatest prose classic in the English language and the greatest Reformed ecclesiastical treatise of perhaps all time. Hooker’s eight volumes should have pride of place alongside Melanchthon’s Loci Communes, Bullinger’s Decades, Calvin’s Institutes and Jewel’s Apology for the Church of England. Why Travers is looked upon as a Presbyterian pioneer will probably remain an unanswerable question as he neither held to the doctrines, practice, church order and discipline of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms that standardised Presbyterianism in the early Commonwealth years. To look upon the gospel as a book of discipline only is to ban the element of grace which is so prevalent in the Scriptures and the Book of Common Prayer.