Jesuits In Conflict: Or Historic Facts Illustrative of the labours of the English Mission and Province Of The Society Of Jesus. In the times of Queen Elizabeth and her successors. By a member Of The Society Of Jesus.
THOMAS POUNDE, OF BELMONT, S.J. Part X.
Thus sentenced he was remanded to prison, where, added the Lord Chancellor, if the fear of the imminent and certain evil about to befall him, shall bring him to a better mind, he is declared discharged from the infamy of the nailing by the ears; but if not, let him be kept in prison until he either dies, or reveals his accomplices in defending the cause of justice to Catholics. So far my Lord Chancellor !
It does not appear from any records that this infamous sentence was actually carried out. But this is beyond all doubt, that neither could the fear of it, nor of a thousand deaths, ever draw from the mouth of our noble confessor a word in prejudice of any Catholic whosoever he might be. His friends and relations, being advised of this shameful condemnation, in order to save him from it, employed the interest of the Spanish Ambassador, at whose entreaties the Queen asked the favour of the King ; but both the one and the other received an angry reply, and were forbidden, in addition, ever again to interfere in the like matter, where religion was concerned, nor to intercede for any guilty Papist And had not the Ambassadors of the King of France and the Doge of Venice, who were more successful in their exertions to soften the heart of King James towards the Catholics, by their united entreaties prevented the execution of the sentence, we have no assurance that it would not have been carried out, at least in part. It is certain that the sentence of imprisonment for life was respited.
A person who met with Pounde, in the same Star Chamber, and was present at that conviction, and wrote a full report, from which Father Bartoli says he has abridged his account, wisely cautions all, whoever they may be, to whom reports may be sent out of England, against the credit to be given not only to the annals and histories of Stow, Hollingshead, Goodwin, and Camden, all of them Protestants (however great merit may be due to those authors for their great labours), when they represent the Catholics of England as guilty, because condemned, but to the acts of the trials themselves, presumed to be solemn and legal, of the criminal court, whether of London, the head court of the kingdom, or elsewhere ; because, as appears by the proceedings themselves, it happens that at the sole will and ruling of the judges the Catholics are found guilty by the juries, while their adversaries are acquitted. This writer goes on to observe that, if here under the very eyes of the King himself, his own special tribunal so flagrantly violates its official power and the very name of justice, so wickedly inverting facts and their proofs, thus giving the semblance of truth to lies, and vice versa of falsehood and calumnies to truth, acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent, what are we to expect from other tribunals of the kingdom, where causes of religion are in question, being as they are so much the less laid open to the complaints of the oppressed, as they are further removed from the ears of the King ? Cases are not wanting where, on the Catholics being demanded by the clerk of arraigns the usual question—" Guilty or not guilty," would answer "Not guilty;" while the official would actually note down as the answer. " guilty and these would stand convicted as pleading " guilty," though not by their own act, but at the will of the Attorney General.
But to resume again the last acts of Pounde. If the generosity of his spirit, which never seemed to relax, or become less strong than at the first, under the continued redoubling of his sufferings and public ignominy of his thirty years' incarceration, is worthy of our admiration, much more is his great addition of voluntary self-inflicted austerities, loading his own beast of burthen (for so he used to call and to treat his body) with so heavy a weight, that it was necessary for our Very Reverend Father General to give him a loving reprehension, and to counsel him to reduce them to a more reasonable and supportable measure. But he was excusable, living as he did, from day to day as though he should die the next, and he had no notion at all of reserving himself for the time to come, but his only care was to multiply merits for the present hour; and he had good cause for this his daily expectation of death, since the fear of it never restrained him from openly professing, both in public and in his own examinations before the judges, in his private discourses, and in his writings upon the point, that Queen Elizabeth was not only not the head and governess of the Church in England, but that she had not a shadow even of spiritual jurisdiction above any other woman. Now to utter this, even sotto voce, being a mortal offence, and the sole cause to so many Catholics of a condemnation to a shameful death, had he not good reason continually to expect it, and to live each day as though the following one would bring it ?
Many things, too, at this time were freely broached by the judges, particularly upon the subject of the Queen's supremacy in matters ecclesiastical which led him to form not a conjecture only, but a hope that, at the ensuing sessions at Newgate, he would be called upon to plead capitally. Therefore, as we have seen, figuring death as at the gate, he omitted no kind of pious practices, both to prepare himself for so happy an exit, as also to enkindle its desire by prayer, reading, and writing. He wrote at times not a few treatises, which were committed to memory by the diligence of Father Thomas Stephens, before named.
The principal were to prove the necessity of penitence, by four arguments—(1) from the great multitude of sinners; (2) the immense multitude of false prophets; (3) from the cruelty of the Turks and heretics; (4) from recent prodigies or omens in the skies and on earth. He subjoins remedies for all mortal sins. He then gives ten aids or consolations by way of self-incitements to undergo death with a ready courage. Because by death he should expiate for his own sins; and for the cause of God, and justice' sake, after the example of Christ, he should give up his life before he had seen either the overthrow of England (an event then generally foreboded), or the times of Antichrist; and he should thus, in whatever degree, be watering the seed of the faith with his own blood, and in however small a measure he should thus be rendering aid to the constancy of Catholics, the confusion of the heretics, and defence of religion. But for that short passage of death after which he so ardently sighed, was to be substistuted his long-continued imprisonment. 1
It is recorded of him that he took frequent and bloody disciplines, he slept little, and. that with inconvenience, having no other bed for a long time than the bare and damp ground or soil of the prisons. He eat but once a day, which practice passed into a custom with him, which he never broke through for forty years, until at length old age obliged him to take a little collation in the evening. "Pardon me, your Reverence," he wrote from Belmont in an account of conscience to his Superior in England, " if I relate in confession my experience of so many years of my solitary life. Flying from the Court, I lived as a hermit for nearly seven years before I was imprisoned; these added to thirty years in prison, and the last three years since which I have not stirred abroad, reckon forty years; in which course of time I have proved that, after humility and poverty of spirit, the fervent love of God, and contempt of the world, there is no more terrible scourge to the devil than fasting, prayer, and watching." 2 As regards fasting he called it a strong fish-hook, wherewith to enable the fisher of souls in this kingdom to take a good haul.
His dress was neither a slovenly nor a cast-off one : on the contrary, it was rather a gay one, not for vanity's sake (God forbid), but by way of protest, that to a captive for the profession of the faith of Christ, and in constant expectation of being called out to die for it, every day was a solemn feast; and he would not that the adversaries, much less the Catholics, should imagine it to be a state of infelicity, and ignominy, but rather one of happiness and glory. Prayer, the study of the holy Fathers, writing controversy, and treatises against the current heresies and in defence of the Roman faith, and its reasons, and in treating of the affairs of the soul with his companions in prison, when he had any, was his method of spending the greater part of the night and the whole day. And that all this was not useless as regards others, who were assisted in heart by the example of his life and the powerful efficacy of his words, it is proof sufficient to relate the rage of the bishop, who on being apprised of the transformation effected by Thomas in the prisons, converting them into churches, the heretics into Catholics, and of these, the tepid and wavering into fervent and courageous, they hunted him from their prisons, sending him to be buried in others far removed from their dioceses, solitary, and deserted by men, to the end that, as in the case of the affected with deadly poison, his touch and his breath should not poison others.
1 Among the flood of publications to which Father Campion's capture and execution gave rise, was one by Anthony Munday, London, 1582. "This called forth the following little book, edited, I think, by Pounde, for printing which Vallenger was condemned in the Star Chamber to lose his ears in the pillory. * A true report of the death and martyrdom of Mr. Campion, Jesuite and Priest, and Mr. Sherwin, and Mr. Bryant, Priests, at Tiburne, the 1st December, 1581 : observed and written by a Catholic Priest, which was present thereat. Whereunto is annexed certain verses made by sundry persons.' i6mo, 26 leaves. The poets I take to be Henry Walpole, Pounde, and Vallenger himself" (Vide Mr. Simpson's valuable Appendix, Life of Campion, App. iv., nn. 6, 7, p. 350).
2 Letter of 3rd June, 1609, quoted by Father Bartoli, Inghil., I. i, cap. xvii, p. 131.