Luke Joseph Hooke

Luke Joseph Hooke (Dublin, 1714-St. Cloud, near Paris, 1796) was a priest and theologian caught up in the great intellectual ferment known as the French Enlightenment.

 

The Hookes were an illustrious family, with a pedigree stretching back to the first Anglo-Norman settlers who arrived in Ireland in the 12th century. Luke Joseph Hooke went with his father, Nathaniel Hooke, to Paris to study for the priesthood in the late 1720s. He stayed first with his great uncle—also called Nathaniel Hooke—somewhere in the vicinity of the church of St. Jacques du Haut Pas (rue St. Jacques, fifth arrondissement), while he pursued his studies.


 
 The church of St. Jacques du Haut-Pas
Great uncle Nathaniel (Corballis, Co. Meath, 1660—Paris, 1738) is worthy of an entry in his own right. A convert to Catholicism from Presbyterianism, Nathaniel became a Jacobite refugee in Paris after the Battle of the Boyne and was naturalized a French citizen in 1720. Initially a colonel in the Irish regiment of Galmoy, he became a trusted advisor to the marquis de Torcy, the architect of French foreign policy. He was sent by Torcy on several secret missions, including one to Scotland in preparation for the planned Jacobite invasion of 1708, and was promoted to the rank of maréchal de camp (honorary major general) in 1718. He then became the main liaison officer between the French monarchy and James Stuart (“King James III and VIII”), when the latter was eventually banished to Rome under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

 

Luke Joseph Hooke’s father worked for a time as private sector to the maréchal, while Luke Joseph himself undertook studies at the seminary of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet (seminary no longer exists but church does, Square de la Mutualité, 5th arrondissement). In 1742, he was appointed to one of the six chairs of theology at the University of Paris, upon the death of James Wogan, a fellow Irishman.

 

 
 The Institut de France, with the Mazarine library on the left
Ten years later, in 1752, Hooke agreed to sponsor the thesis prepared by a student priest from southern France called Jean Martin de Prades. This sponsorship of Prades was to prove Hooke’s undoing. It appears that Hooke did not properly examine Prades’ unusually lengthy thesis. If he did, he did not pick up on some of the more politically and theologically “unsound” views that it contained—or else felt some sort of sympathy for them. Quickly, Hooke found himself “caught up in a tangle of competing agents of divine authority in the one realm, between the faculty of theology on the one hand and the Parlement de Paris (the king’s judiciary) on the other”, according to Thomas O’Connor. Seizing on some obscure references and omissions in Prades’, and conscious that Prades was close to Denis Diderot and the philosophes, the Parlement decided to put the faculty in its place by having Prades’ thesis condemned by the archbishop of Paris, stripping him of his degrees and bringing a civil action against him.

 

Hooke was forced to resign from his position for his part in the affair. He was readmitted to the faculty in 1754, but had to wait until 1762 before he was reinstated as a professor of theology. Alas, Hooke was not at the end of his professional difficulties. Hooke was mistrusted by the archbishop Christophe de Beaumont of Paris because of his involvement in the Prades affair and because of his association with Prades’ rival, the Archbishop of Lyon, a rival. While the faculty backed Hooke’s reappointment to the chair of theology, Beaumont had ordered Paris seminarians to boycott his lectures, leaving Hooke in the painful position of having next to no students at his lectures. Persistent episcopal opposition forced Hooke gave up the chair of theology, although his friends managed to obtain for him a position as professor for the interpretation of Hebrew and Chaldean scripture, a post he occupied until 1778.

 

 
 Hooke's Religionis naturalis et revelatae principia
In the midst of his travails, Hooke found time and energy to pursue other intellectual pursuits. One of his most important achievements was the publication of his lectures in three volumes under the title of Religionis naturalis et revelatae principia, which was translated into several languages (although Hooke’s name does not appear anywhere on the title page because its first edition coincided with his fall from grace in the early 1750s). Hooke also translated into French his father’s Roman history from the building of Rome to the ruin of the Commonwealth and, true to his Jacobite roots, edited the Duke of Berwick’s Memoirs.

 

Hooke seems to have lived for a period in St. Cloud (perhaps because he had relatives there). Samuel Johnson, in his diary of a trip through France, noted that in October 1775 he went “with the prior to St. Cloud to see Dr. Hooke—We walked around the palace and had some talk” and that the following day “Hooke came to us at the inn”.

 

Although Hooke was 61 when Johnson visited, the Irishman’s professional life—and his problems with officialdom—were far from over. In 1778, he was appointed librarian at the Bibliothèque Mazarine, France’s oldest public library (23, Quai de Conti, 5th arrondissement, part of the Institut de France). Hooke managed to expand the library’s collection, although his duties were probably not all that onerous. Louis-Sébastien Mercier in his Tableau de Paris tells us that the library was closed for three and a half months holidays each year and “only opens its doors when the cold weather renders study impossible in such an immense building where fires are forbidden”. Installed comfortably in an official apartment, and with income from tithes in a parish in Normandy as well as his salary from the Mazarine, Hooke might reasonably have supposed his material needs were satisfied until the end of his days.

 

 
 Hooke's fruitless petition to the king
It was not to be. When the ancien régime, of which Hooke was a small but not entirely insignificant representative, crumbled in 1789, the revolutionaries came looking for him. In 1791, in spite of repeated petitions to the king and then to the new revolutionary authorities, Hooke was finally dismissed from his position over his failure to take a special oath of loyalty to the civil constitution and was replaced by the assistant librarian, l’abbé Gaspard Michel Leblond. Hooke believed that Leblond was part of a plot to use the pretext of the oath of loyalty to force Hooke out of his position and assume the role of head librarian for himself. But in spite of last-minute obstructionism and recriminations against Leblond for being “very anxious to remove me from the library and even to dislodge me from my apartment”, Hooke eventually had to admit defeat. Writing that he was “tired and with no longer a place to stay in Paris”, he retreated back to St. Cloud at the end of May 1791. Hooke continued to harangue the authorities, but to no avail. He died virtually destitute in an institution in St. Cloud in April 1796, with the executor of his will stating that apart from his clothes, some silver buckles and an old wig, Hooke left nothing but five books in English and a wallet containing two assignats, one for five livres, the other for 25 sols.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Lettre de M. l’Abbé Hooke, docteur de la maison et société de la Sorbonne, professeur de théologie, à Mgr. l’archevêque de Paris qui avait interdit son cours aux séminaristes (1763)

Luke Joseph Hooke

 

Requête au Roi (1791)

Luke Joseph Hooke

 

A Messieurs les députés de l’Assemblée Nationale (1791)

Luke Joseph Hooke

 

An Irish Theologian in Enlightenment France, Luke Joseph Hooke, 1714-96 (1995)

Thomas O’Connor

 

Histoire de la Bibliothèque et du Palais de l’Institut (1901)

Alfred Franklin

 

Biographie Universelle Ancienne et Moderne (1857)

 

The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D (1791)

James Boswell

 

“Surviving the Civil Constitution of the Clergy: Luke Joseph Hooke, 1714-1796”, Thomas O’Connor in Eighteenth-Century Ireland: Iris an dá Chultúr, vol. 11 (1996)

 

“A Displaced Intelligensia: Aspects of Irish Catholic Thought in Ancien Régime France”, Liam Chambers, in:

The Irish In Europe (2001)

Various, ed. Thomas O’Connor

 

“Nathaniel Hooke (1664-1738) and the French Embassy to Saxony, 1711-1712”,

Thomas Byrne, in:

Irish Communities in Early-Modern Europe

Various, ed. Thomas O’Connor & Mary Ann Lyons (2006)

 

“A Forgotten Irish Theologian”, Aubrey Gwynn in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 63, no. 251 (Autumn 1974)

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