Arthur Middleton on the nonjuror George Hickes (1642–1715)

George Hickes, bishop and nonjuror, was educated at St John’s College, Oxford, 1659, where he came into conflict with the Puritan President because of his Royalist and Church principles. Always, he was prepared to sacrifice and be sacrificed for his principles.

Sent down in 1660, he returned in the same year as a ‘servitor’ to Magdalen, where he graduated in 1663 and became a fellow at Lincoln College. In 1675 he became Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford; in 1678 a DD at St Andrews; in 1679 an Oxford DD; a royal chaplain in 1681; and Dean of Worcester in 1683, refusing the bishopric of Bristol in 1684. Hickes refused to take the oaths to William and Mary and suffered suspension and deprivation for his principles.

Hickes was the equal of the greatest of the Caroline divines. His Works are published in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology, and display a massive patristic learning. Three of them are pertinent to our own time: The Christian Priesthood Asserted, The Dignity of the Episcopal Order, and his Constitution of the Catholic Church. He affirmed that the sacerdotal king of the Church, ‘Christ Jesus hath committed the government and administration of His Kingdom to priests.’ With the threefold ministry threatened as it is today, he argued from the New Testament and the Fathers for the sacrificial character of the Eucharist and ‘the difference betwixt a proper priesthood and the evangelical ministry.’ The episcopal office and its authority ‘has been so many ways depressed.’

He says to those who object to his higher notions of episcopal authority, ‘It is the unhappiness of our times that men have too mean and low notions of the episcopal authority, and those who by succession and ordination are advanced to it. But, Sir, if you had the same notion of the dignity and honour of the priesthood that the Jews had of it, I believe you would not think I had spoken too loftily of the archieratical or episcopal office, or that the terms of ‘princes, and spiritual sovereigns’ were so improper, or too high for it.’

His works on the Roman question are among the best defences of the Anglican position. His devotional writings breathe the spirit of Anglican devotion and there are posthumous contributions in The True Church of England Man’s Companion to the Closet (1721). His well-known book of Devotions, The Way of Ancient Offices, compiled by Susanna Hopton in 1701, was revised with a preface by him.

In 1709, Hickes became the unquestioned leader of the non-jurors, affectionately called by them ‘the good Father Hickes.’ Though he had many friends among conforming Churchmen, he regarded the ‘Revolution Church’ as a schismatic body, but he was no bigot. His many friendships show that he was a loveable man, close to the saintly Kettlewell and Robert Nelson. This speaks in favour of his piety. He did not sever his friendship with Dean Comber after the latter took the oaths, and was a friend of White Kennett, even after they were on opposite sides at the Revolution Settlement. Sir George Wheeler, who took preferment in the Established Church, remained in mutual respect and affection with Hickes, his former tutor.

He died on 15 December 1715, aged seventy-four, and is buried in St Margaret’s, Westminster. He left behind him the character of a learned and pious man.