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 XI.
" Our Pounde," as Father Parsons writes of him, 1 "is separated far away from all the prisoners, he is most strictly guarded in a lonely castle, and made to stand there for the greater part of the time with a heavy weight of iron upon his back, in punishment of his having freely reproached, to their vexation, the evangelicals, so they call their preachers. To penetrate to him in prison is almost impossible, and to a great extent, most dangerous; and a Priest who secretly carried him the Blessed Sacrament, was surprised and imprisoned.
"Now, by God's mercy, the access is a little facilitated; so much so, that we send to him, and he in return to us, reciprocally, with letters and messages, and thus we get frequent accounts of his battles and contentions with the preachers. They say that his prison is as it were entirely buried under ground, and totally dark and gloomy; that he sees no other light than that of an oil lamp, and this anything but such an one as he would desire, nor can he ever procure a better by money or entreaty. He sleeps for the most part of the night on the damp ground, bound sometimes with one, two, and often with three iron fetters: nevertheless, he writes merrily to us, and as though he had nothing to say about his prison nor his sufferings."
In this manner of life did our glorious confessor arrive at the thirtieth year of his imprisonment, divided into ten stations, agreeing in number, as he himself says, to the ten prisons into which he was thrust.
It occurred at this time to King James to banish from the kingdom the Priests who had been captured, and who, according to the brutal laws of Elizabeth, were guilty of death, and entirely to liberate all laymen.
Hereupon Thomas was remanded to his paternal mansion at Belmont, which, as we have said, is twelve miles from Winchester. Some time after this the Privy Council granted him a written licence to cross the seas, "well knowing," as Pounde says in one of his letters, "that I had no other intention than to give myself up to the Society, and to throw myself at our Father's feet. And I had already prepared to break through every hindrance, and betake myself there, mindful of the last words spoken to me by Father Henry Garnet, which are also those of the Apostle whose spirit he had imbibed, Non quaerimus vestra, sed vos —When, lo ! an order came from the Superior whom I obey, and in whose hands I should be as a staff."
The remainder of this noble champion's life from his discharge out of prison till his death, a period of about eleven years, may be well inferred from the following letter he wrote to Father Parsons six years before his death. It shows the affection he always entertained towards the Society, and the foundations of virtues by which he preserved patience under persecution for so many years. This letter is given by Father More, Hist Prov. Angl., I. ii., n. xxii., p. 52.
"Great was my joy of soul when your letter of the 3rd of January was delivered to me, especially the greeting added by Father Claudius to me the least and most unworthy of his sons, for I had received no news from you for a long time. From that day, indeed, until the 15th of May, I remained uncertain what that meekest and humblest of men, my Superior, here willed concerning me.
"At length a letter from him has made this sufficiently known to me. But that the case is so, I say that I am greatly ashamed at my silence of so many years, and on my knees prostrate to the ground at the feet of both, I pray your indulgence. For neither have I met my Superior as I should have done, nor have I addressed your Reverence by letter, and I candidly confess that I find no door of excuse for my negligence. Your Reverence, however, will, perhaps, for the sake of blessed Edmund Campion, whose memory is in benediction, open your bowels of charity to me. Your Reverence loves him; I venerate him with all possible respect However, not only in those letters, but in your books (which are a consolation to many in England, and a help to those abroad), I am so greatly lauded that, whether in hearing or reading them, I am completely put to the blush. I congratulate you much, Reverend Father, who like another Israel, are wrestling with God for the preservation and conversion of England. As to what regards myself (to whom our good and great God gives somewhat to suffer), I arrogate nought to myself, since nought I deserve.
" I subscribed my last letter to our Reverend Father General: Tot annis in statera appensus, Thomas Pondus —' So many years weighed in the balance.' If in that time or afterwards, anything was accomplished, the favour was of God, not ray act. To you, my best of Fathers, I have written nothing. This I think may be ascribed to my timidity and pusillanimity. Indeed I blame my own negligence for not having shown any token either of kindness or of gratitude towards those whom I so greatly honour, and which honour how great it is, is patent to those to whom all things here are manifest. If you ask whence this pusillanimity and fear, I believe it arises from hindrance. For I was for the space of thirty years dragged through various prisons for the cause of Christ and the Gospel. At the commencement I was mulct in sixteen, afterwards in eighty golden crowns per month, and which I paid into the treasury (the whole amounting to twenty-one thousand one hundred and twenty crowns). 2
"And lastly, when thinking of crossing the seas, having made over my estate to two nephews (who, being born of heretical parents, I have brought up and educated as Catholics, as though they were my own sons), and with one foot as it were on the vessel, I was ordered to desist by my Superior (to whose nod I conform myself, as the old man's staff) until our Very Reverend Father's, or your Reverence's determination should be known about me. Therefore, put off with hopes, and vainly hoping long against hope, tossed about with many storms and tempests, I nevertheless resolved, naked and poor, to offer myself, although late, as a fruitless and barren tree, that if by chance in this miserable cadence pf my life, I can bring forth any fruit, it may be for your Reverence's merit and consolation. Your Reverence, with your accustomed charity, asks me what I am doing? What progress I make in spirit, what fruit, what consolation in my adopted mode of life ? To speak plainly as I think, I say well, and most happily, as I hope. For what I once said to my keepers when taken to Framlingham Castle, the same I repeat now, and shall I hope say as long as I live, Hanc quam pro Societatis, toga gero vestem non regia corona commutarem —'I would not change this habit of the Society which I wear, for the Queen's crown.'
" I live with my two nephews frugally indeed; for my means are not such as is commonly reputed, because, forsooth, I give more amongst the poor than my neighbours, I mean the rich; and, because I make little account of those things after which others so eagerly gape, the honester sort, for the most part, wish me well. After a refection at midday (which practice of abstinence I would were also familiar to fishers of souls), my supper in the evening consists of bread and cheese; my drink is beer. I interdict myself from* wine and medicine. Cibus est medicina valenti —'Food is the medicine of the healthy.' For the last three years I have had much ado with my friends and domestics, for holding to my mode of life. However, I hold on my course, and will stick to it, trusting to the prayers of our Blessed Lady and the whole celestial court Non enim existimo me comprehendisse, sed ad destinatum persequor ad bravium supernae vocationis —' I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press forward towards the goal of my high vocation.
"Your Reverence assist me with your prayers, whose most unworthy son I am.
"From my former house, at Belmont, 3rd July, 1609."
1 From London, 16th June, 1581, to Very Reverend Father General Aquaviva, quoted by Father Bartoli, Inghil., 1. i., cap. xvii., p. 134.
2 Father More mentions a case in which he was fined by the Bishop of Winchester sixteen thousand crowns for refusing to apostatize. "He had a good esquire's estate, but it was so plundered by fines and exactions, that even his enemies were ashamed of their cruelty. Yea, Salisbury himself upon my plaint, telling him that our Gospel taught out of Christ's own mouth, that it was more blessed to give than to take away, as they had taken so much from me, took so much compassion on me, for his own honour, as to give me back twenty pounds for my relief, of two hundred pounds, which from a ward that fell to me of one of my tenants, he had taken from me and given to his secretary."