Thomas Gataker was born in London on September 4, 1574, the son of a clergyman, Thomas Gatacre, who had served in Parliament during the reign of Queen Mary. A bookish child, gifted with an impressive memory, Gataker began his education early, earning his B.A. degree in from St. John’s College, Cambridge in 1594 and his M.A. three years later. At Cambridge he was a fellow of the recently formed Sidney Sussex College for a brief time. During his Cambridge years, Gataker also developed significant relationships with two important Puritans, Richard Stock and William Bradshaw, and obtained the patronage of James Montague, founding master of Sidney Sussex and later one of James I's most influential Bishops. Gataker was ordained by 1600 (the precise date is not recorded), and proceeded B.D. in 1604. Before entering into a benefice he served as tutor in the household of Sir William Cooke. Indeed he continued to live with the Cookes after being appointed to lectureshipp at Lincoln's Inn in 1601, and maintained a relationship with the family for a number of years. Between his Puritan father, friends and the influence of his college professors, Gataker became increasingly committed to the Puritan cause. Declining several prestigious academic and ecclesiastical posts, Gataker dedicated himself primarily to scholarship and to pastoral ministry, an increasingly difficult vocation, as “times proved ‘more troublesome than formerly they had been’” (Emerson 199).
Life as a Puritan Clergyman
Defined broadly, Puritanism is the form of Protestantism that existed both inside and outside the Church of England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and viewed the English Reformation as an incomplete work in progress. Seventeenth-century Puritans were Calvinist in their theology, adhering to the doctrine of predestination that increasingly fell out of favour with authorities in the Church and State from the mid 1620s until the outbreak of Civil War in 1640. They were the "hotter sort of Protestants," keen to purify the church of the remnants of "Popish superstition." Nearly all opposed the increasingly ceremonial liturgy of the Church of England under Archbishop Laud; some objected to clerical vestments, kneeling for the sacrament, ornate church decoration, and the institution of episcopacy. By the broad definition, Thomas Gataker was certainly a Puritan, though a comparatively moderate one.
Gataker began his service in the ministry as a family chaplain. He then served as preacher at Lincoln’s Inn for a decade. During those years Gataker had several opportunities for preferment, but he resisted them all. In 1611 the newlywed Gataker settled in the parish of Rotherhithe in Surrey, where he preached for forty years.
After many years of pastoral ministry, Gataker was appointed, in 1643, to the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, called by the English Long Parliament to reform the worship, doctrine, government and discipline of the Church of England. Gataker helped to draft the Westminster Confession of Faith. On matters of Church government he took a moderate position, advocating a mix of primitive episcopacy and Presbyterianism.
Life as a Scholar
Gataker showed a predilection for Classical learning at any early age. He attended inconvenient Greek lectures at the bedside of John Bois at four in the morning (DNB). Early in his career he was offered a Lectureship in Hebrew at Sidney Sussex, which he declined. His first published work, Of the Nature and Use of Lots (1619), provoked some controversy for its alleged advocacy of gaming. In all, Gataker produced dozens of works, including sermons, theological and controversial tracts, tomes on grammar, a biography, pamphlets on political and moral matters. He contributed to the comprehensive Westminster Commentery on the Bible, a major work of Presbyterian scriptural exigesis, and prepared dedications for the works of others, occasionally editing volumes penned by his clerical colleagues. Gataker's most enduring work is his edition of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations with commentary, on which he worked for forty years. The work is praised by modern scholars as one of the monuments of seventeenth-century Classical scholarship, a study that "stands almost alone for more than two centuries" (Brink 16).
Gataker worked up until his death from fever at age seventy-nine on July 27,1654, leaving three works yet to be published. He outlived four wives and a son, but was survived by a sister, a son and a daughter. Gaatker was buried in his church with no stone to mark his grave.