THOMAS POUNDE’S FAMOUS ‘SIX REASONS’ from Prison (1580)

“Thomas Pounde was one of the most glorious confessors of the faith in England, pregnant as his time was with noble champions of the Church. His biography illustrates the merciless and systematic ferocity with which the persecution was carried out by the professors of the reformed religion, whatever their social position, against those who held the Catholic faith of our forefathers, and the terrible afflictions of every kind, in person and property, which were borne by them with such marvellous patience and long-suffering.” For a more detailed account of the Life and Writings of Thomas Pounde please refer to Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus by Henry Foley, Vol. 3, 1878 from which the following Six Reasons was transcribed by E.T.H. III.

Six reasons set down to show that it is no orderly way in controversies of faith to appeal to be tried only by Scripture (as the absurd opinion of all the Sectaries is), but to the sentence and definition of the Catholic Church by whom as by the Spouse of Christ, always inspired with the Holy Ghost, the Holy Scripture is to be judged.

First, consider well these words of our Saviour in sending us to the Scriptures, saying, “Search the Scriptures, for you think to have eternal life in them, and those are they that bear witness of Me.” Mark well these words, I pray, that the Scripture is but witness-bearer to the truth, and not the judge to discern of truth ; for judgment given belongeth not to the witness-bearer, although he be as a rule to lead, and direct the judge in true judgment. But what if this witness should be corrupted, as no man will deny but it may, yet this judge to whom the Holy Ghost is promised will find it and reform it; as shortly we will see by a true English Bible which is coming forth. Understand, therefore, my reasons why of necessity the Church must be judge of the Scripture, and take your pen, and confute them, I say to you, if you can. The first is because the written text is mute and dumb, uttering nothing to us from the book, but only the words, and not the sense, wherein the life, as it were, of the Scripture consisteth, and what definitive sentence can such a judge give to overrule the conceited mind of an opinionative man, which hath no evident means to pronounce any judgment against him, but only to show him a dumb sign in writing, which a wrangler may construe still to his own understanding against all the world.

The second is because the Holy Scripture, as St. Augustine saith, is very full of hard and deep mysteries, insomuch that when Honoratus said to him (as many unlearned men say nowadays), that he understood it well enough without help of any instruction. “Say you,” saith he, “you would not take upon you to understand such a poet as Terence is well without a master, and dare you rush into the Holy Scriptures, which are so full of divine mysteries, without a judge? All heresies, saith he, come of nothing else : Nisi dum Scripturæ bonæ intelliguntur non bene—‘But while the good Scriptures are not well understood.’ Hereto, also, St. Peter, in his Second Epistle, ch. iii, beareth witness, saying, that many misunderstood St. Paul in many hard places perversely, to their own perdition. But then you will say the hard places may easily be understood by conference of the other Scriptures : we’ll admit a childish reason for a word or two; that because that might so be among the humbleminded, therefore they must needs be so, though men be never so perverse ; yet give me leave to push you the one question farther to the quick : how is it possible to know by any conference of the Scriptures which is canonical Scripture and which is not? Certainly if any infidel would deny the Old Testament (as some heretics in time past have done), and I pray God there be not many Atheists at this day in England, which be farther gone than they; yea, if such an one should deny all the New Testament also, we have sure anchor-hold against him by the revelation of God, by His tradition to His Church, which is the pillar and sure stay of truth, which St. Augustine, well seeing, thought he might be bold to say, with due reverence to God and Holy Scripture both : ‘I should not believe the Gospel except the authority of the Church did move me thereto ; meaning that tradition of the universal Church, and the testimony of all the people of God, in whom the Holy Ghost dwelleth, must justly move us to credit that which their authority doth command us to give credit unto. Therefore, let any man beware of flying from the Church’s judgment [of] the Scripture only; least the Scripture itself should be utterly denied, as by some Atheists in England (as I hearsay) it is already; and then might such infidels laugh all heretics to scorn for robbing themselves of their defense. But now to return to my purpose. If conference of one Scripture with another might give light enough to all men, how happeneth it that all sects using that conference, yet they can never agree in their opinions, but divers men, and all, using such conference doe yet construe it diversely, the uttermost shift they have is this, such a weak one as it is, that the reader must give himself to prayer for the truth to be revealed unto him; wherein, mark (I pray you) the intolerable pride of arrogant hypocrites, that they will first mistrust God’s revelation of the truth to His universal Church, for the which Christ Himself hath prayed, and promised to teach them all truth, and then most presumptuously to come and tempt God to have that truth only revealed to themselves, which being revealed, many hundreth years agone, and defined in General Councils by all the holy Fathers, where the Holy Ghost is always present, or at least by the holy Doctors in their writings set down, yet they will not believe, nor harken unto it. Yet this is their course, and so, as they say, forsooth, they doe all pray very heartily, though few of them can wring out any tears in their prayers, but yet with such a faith in the Lord (as their own term is) that they doe all verily believe the truth is revealed unto them, and yet, forsooth, they must needs be all deceived, as long as they dwell in dissension, and are not in errors only, but one contrary to another; who now must be the judge to try the spirits whether they be of God or no, but only the Church, or else shall they not be tried at all, but continual permission for infinite legions of lying spirits to be still undetected, that they may seduce more and more.

The third reason is, because St. Peter saith plainly that no Scripture is to be taken after any private interpretation. For it was not uttered after the will and phantasy of man, but as holy men of God spake it, inspired by the Holy Ghost. Yet most contrary to this express rule, every private man shall have liberty to interpret it to his own perverse will, after a private interpretation, otherwise than at first it was inspired to the holy men, if every man may appeal from the ecclesiastical sense of the universal Church to the text itself, as he understandeth it.

The fourth reason is, because by appealing only to the Scriptures, you seem to give men liberty to deny all unwritten verities, which we have received of the Church, either by express definition in General Council, or else by tradition. And I believe at my first naming of unwritten verities, Mr. Crowley and his fellows will laugh straight way, as though such were but fables ; but to temper their folly, I will not say their pride, a little in that point, I ask them all this question : how they prove the Trinity of Persons, and Unity of Substance, by express Scripture, or the two distinct natures in Christ, and but one Person, or God the Father to be ingenitus; or the proceeding of the Holy Ghost, both from the Father, and the Son, as from one fountain ? Or the descending of Christ down into hell, plain word of Scripture being therefore of many nowadays flatly denied ? Or the custom of baptizing of infants, seeing the Scripture saith rather as though they should be taught first their faith before they were baptized ; saying, “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name,” &c. ? Or why we should keep the Sunday now at all, and not Saturday rather, which was the Jews’ Sabboth day, that the Scripture speaketh of to be sanctified, although you’re Puritans which go to plough upon the Church’s holidays, seem not yet to know the Sunday for any of their making ; or why we should not abstain now still like the Jews from strangled meats, as the Apostles once decreed in the Acts, and by no express Scripture again abrogated ; yea, then, why may not any heretic deny all three Creeds, both the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, as it is called, and the Creed of Athanasius, seeing never a one of those is written in Scripture expressly, but all left us by tradition only, upon credit of the Church. Mark you not how these Bedlam Scripture-men would shake all the foundations of our Christian faith, by binding us to believe nothing but Scripture. Do not these blind guides, think you, lead a trim dance towards infidelity? Thus much of the fourth reason.

The fifth is, because without a certain judge for interpretation of Scripture, this absurdity would follow, that God, which is the Author of all perfection, and disposeth everything in stride and decent order, had left His universal Church on earth in this confusion, that whensoever any doubtful question should arise upon construction of His holy will, there were no provision at all ordained by God, for deciding of all such strifes, and preservation of Concorde among His people. And then certainly the kingdom of God’s Church were not so well provided for in their government, as every civil kingdom is by policy of carnal men, amongst whom none almost are so barbarous, but that they have counsellors for guidance of their estate, and judges for expounding and executing of their laws ; as well as laws written, or else it were ridiculous. Would not he be counted a very wise man, think you, in one of our parliaments, which would step up like a great bragger, and persuade all his fellows that for as much as they had a noble and ancient law left written unto them, the realm should have no longer need from henceforth of any prince, nor any rulers, nor peers, nor judges, nor justices, nor civil magistrates, but every man upon his word, for the warrant, would be content to govern himself orderly by the law written, which as his wisdom thinks is plain enough? And truly ridiculous be they, but much more to be laughed at, which will have the Scripture the only judge for every man to appeal unto, and refuse all authority of the Church in expounding thereof. Now who knoweth not that the Arian heretics produce forty places of Scripture for their horrible heresy, more than the Catholics had against them, but all falsely understood, which, when it is so misunderstood and misapplied, then St. Augustine called it the heretics’ bow wherewith they shoot their own venomous arrows. And Vincentius Lyrins saith it is then the sheep’s clothing which the wolf doth shroud himself in, because that when a simple body feeleth the softness, as it were, of his fleece, he should not mistrust the tyranny of his teethe ; that is to say, of his false constructions of Scripture, wherein he would devour his soul ; so did the devil himself allege Scripture unto Christ, and as oft as any heretics allege Scripture to us against the Catholic faith, so oft, sayth Vincentius, we may be out of doubt the devils doth speak unto us by their mouthes, and saith unto us, even as he did unto Christ, Si filius Dei es mitte te deorsum; as much as to say—If thou wilt be the son of God, and professor of His holy Gospel, cast thyself down from the high authority, and traditions of this Catholic Church ; whom, if we ask again, why we should doe this, saith Vincentius, they come out with Scriptum est, etc., because it is written, search in the holy book, and from thence thou mayst learn a new lesson of Me how to be a right Christian ; to whom we must say, Vade Sathan non tentabis, and that with great fervour of faith; for more perilous is the temptation of such a flattering servant, saith St . Augustin, than the roaring of a angry lion, because the one we fly from with fear, but the other with enticing may come the nearer to sting us.

The sixth reason, most weighty of all, is this ; because if you will refuse the authority of the Church’s absolute judgement upon the Scripture’s true sense, you shall soon come plainly to deny the Holy Ghost to be the Spirit of Truth, which upon the Apostles, and all the faithful, was sent down with visible signs, and with His Church it is promised to remain unto the world’s end, by the words of our Saviour, “I will ask My Father, and He shall send you another comforter to tarry with you for ever, the Spirit of Truth ;” and a little after thus—“The Holy Ghost the comforter whom My Father will send in My name shall teach you all truth.” So the Church is the surest judge, and none surer but the Church for all men in doubts of Scripture, because it hath a promise that it shall never err in judgment, which is notably confirmed by the Prophet Esay, saying, “This is my covenant with them, saith the Lord, My Spirit which is in thee, and My word which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouths of thy seed, nor out of thy seed’s seed, now nor ever to the world’s end.” O most comfortable promise that the Spirit of Truth shall never depart out of ye Church’s mouth! O fit judge appointed to be judge of Scripture, for our prophets! Without presumption remember then, I say to you, what a sottish opinion that is which is held to the contrary, that every private man, whom belike you will imagine to be one of the Church, shall have good leave to be his own judge in understanding of Scripture, as your crafty men are, and yet that the authorities of the whole universal Church shall not presume to take any judgment upon them. Granting this, as you must needs, that the Church, which is our Mother, as the Scripture saith, must needs teach us all her children at first to believe in God, saying faith must come by hearing, and also to know the Scriptures ; and yet that the same Church being the pillar and sure stay of truth shall not be absolute judge, and imperial schoolmistress, to teach us all how to believe in God, and how to understand the Scriptures. For this blindness of your hearts I may say as justly to you as St. Paul said to the Galatians, O insensati, etc.—O you foolish fellows, who hath bewitched you not to obey unto the truth? which even of infants and suckling babes (as it were) is discerned as clear as the sun. So that you must not disdain Mr. Tripp, to be tripped in this matter for a silly seducer, to maintain as you do, all so gross an opinion, being the forest indeed for all such foxes to litter their whelps in. Therefore, to conclude this assertion, acquit yourselves as well as you can, why you may not all be justly subjected to deny the descending of the Holy Ghost unto the Church, for as much as you refuse the Church’s sentence in judgement, with whom the Holy Ghost is promised always to remain, and in truth to direct them.

Hac est fides mea quia est Catholica—“This is my faith because it is ye Catholic faith.”

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1 Comment

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One response to “THOMAS POUNDE’S FAMOUS ‘SIX REASONS’ from Prison (1580)

  1. Rebecca

    Beautiful. Just beautiful. Such an excellent and concise refutation of Protestant error. I especially liked reason #6.

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