A shorte treatise of politike pouuer
About this text
John Ponet (1514-1556), Bishop of Winchester, is best known for his strong advocacy of the right to resist tyrannical rulers. He was educated in Cambridge and became Fellow of Queen's College in 1532. He was well known for his humanistic learning, in particular, his mastery of Greek. He achieved prominence in the reign of Henry VIII and emerged as a leader of the reform lobby under Edward VI. He appears to have gone into hiding on the accession of Mary, but John Stow reports that he was a supporter of Wyatt's rebellion in 1554. He died in Strasburg in 1556, the year in which his best known work, A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power, made its appearance.
A SHORTE TREA-
tise of politike pouuer, and of the true Obe-
dience which subjectes owe to kynges and other
civile Governours, with an Exhortacion
to all true naturall Englishe
D. I. P. B. R. W.
Psal. 118. It is better to trust in the Lorde
than to trust in Princes.
than to trust in Princes.
PUBLISHED BY the heirs of W. Köpfel
Where is the Wisdome of the Grecianes? Where is the fortitude of the Assirianes? wher is bothe the wis dome and force of the Romaynes become? All is uanished awaye, nothing almost lefte to testifie that they were, but that which well declareth, that their reason was not hable to governe them. Therfore were suche as were desirous to knowe the perfit and only governour of all, constrayned to seke further than themselves, and so at leynght to confesse, that it was one God that ruled all. By him we lyve, we have our being, and be moved. He made us, and not we our selves. We be his people, and the shepe of his pasture. He made all thinges for man: and man he made for him self, to serve and glorifie him. He hathe taken upon him thordre and governement of man his chief creature, and prescribed him a rule, how he should behave himself, what he should doo, and what he maye not doo.
This rule is the lawe of nature, furst planted and graffed only in the mynde of man, than after for that his mynde was through synne defiled, filled with darknes se, and encombred with many doubtes set furthe in writing in the deealoge or ten commaundementes: and after reduced by Christ our saveour ìn to these two wordes: Thou shalt love thy lorde God above all thinges, and thy neighbour as thyself. The later part wherof he also thus expoundeth: what so ever ye will that men doo unto you, doo ye even so to them.
In this lawe is comprehended all justice, the perfite waye to serve and glorifie God, and the right meane to rule every man particularly, and all men generally: and the only staye to mayntayne every common wealthe. This is the touchestone to trye every mannes doinges (be he king or begger) whether they be good or evil. Bi this all m [...]nes lawes be discerned, wher ther they be juste or unjuste, godly or wicked. As for an example. Those that have autoritie to make lawes in a common wealthe, make this lawe, that no pynnes shalbe made, but in their owne countrey. It semeth but a trifle. Yet if by this meanes the people maye be kept from idlenesse, it is a good and juste lawe and pleaseth God. For idlenesse is a vice wherwith God is offended: and the waye to offende him in breache of these commaundementes: Thou shalt not steale, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not be a horem [...], n [...]ger, &c. Por all these evilles come of [...]. On the other syde, if the people be well [...]in other things, and the people of an other countrey lyve by pynne making, and uttring th [...] if ther should be a lawe made, that they [...] not sell them to their neighbours of the [...] countrey, otherwise well occupied, it were aw [...]cked and an unjuste lawe. [...]aking awaye the meane, wherby they lyve, a meane is devised [...]kill them with famyne, and so is not onely [...]commaundement broken: Thou shalt not kill, but also the generallawe, that sayeth: Thou shalt love [Page 4]thy neighbour as thyself. And, what so ever ye will that men do unto you, even so do you unto them. For you your selves wold not be killed with hungre.
Likewise if ther be a lawe made, utterly prohibiting any man that can not lyve chaste, to marie: this is an unjuste, an ungodly and a wicked lawe. For it is an occasion, that wher with marieng, he might avoide synne: he not marieng dothe committe horedome in acte or thought contrary to Goddes will and commaundement: Thou shalt not committe horedome
Agayn, a prince forceth his subjectes (under the name of request) to lende him that they have, which they doo unwillingly: and yet for feare of a worse tourne, they must seme to be content therwith. Afterwarde he causeth to be assembled in a Parliament such as per cha [...]ce lent nothing, or elles such as dare not displease him. They to please him, remit this general debte. This is a wicked, ungodly, and unjust lawe. For they doo not, as they [...]be done unto, but be an occasion, that a great [...] be undone, their children for lacke of sustenaunce perishe through famyne, and their servav [...]ntes forced to [...], and perchaunce to commyt [...]urther. So that if men [...]ill weigh well this [...] and lawe that God hathe prescribed to man, Thou shalt love thy lord God above all thinges, and thy neighbour as thy self. And, what so ever ye will that men do unto you, do ye even the same unto them: [Page 5]they maye sone learne to trye good from evil, godlynesse from ungodlynesse, right from wrong.
And it is so playne and easie to be understanden, that no ignoraunce can or will excuse him that therin offendeth.
Against thoffendours of this lawe, ther was no corporal punishement ordayned in this worlde, til after the destruction of the worlde with the great floud. For albeit Cayn and lamech had committed horrible murthers, yet were they not corporally punished, but had a protection of God, that none should lawfully hurte them. But after the flood, whan God sawe his gentilnesse and pacience could not worke his creatures to doo their dueties unforced, but iniquitie prevailed and mischief daily encreaced, and one murthered, and destroyed an other: than was he constrayned to chaunge his lenitie into severitie, and to adde corporal paynes to those that wold not folowe, but transgresse his ordinaunces. And so he made this lawe, which he declared to Noha: He that Sheadeth the bloud of man, his bloud Shal be Shead by man. For man is made after the image of God.
Mattathias being by the kinges Commissionares required and commaunded to conforme himself to the kinges procedinges (which was to committe Idolatrie) as all his countreymen the Jewes hade done (and as the like case standeth now in Englande) not only refused to obey king Antiohus commaundement, or to folowe his procedinges in that behalfe, but also whan he sawe a jewe committee Idolatrie before his face, he ranne upon the jewe in a great zeale and slewe him, and fell also upon the ordinary Commissioners sent from Antiochus the ordinary king of the Realme, and slewe them out of hande. These examples nede no further exposicion, the scripture is plaine enough. But if neither the hole state nor the minister of Goddes worde wolde doo their common duetie, nor any other laufull shifte before mentioned can be hade, nor dare be attempted: yet are not the poore people destitute all together of remedy: but God hathe lefte unto them twoo weapones, hable to conquere and destroie the greatest Tiranne that ever was: that is, Penaunce and Praier. Penaunce for their owne sinnes, which provoke the angre and displeasure of God, and make him to suffre tirannes, warres, famine, pestilence and all plages to reigne among the people. And praier, that he will withdrawe his wrathe, and shewe his mercifull countenaunce.
Hereof we have not only commaundement, but also manifest examples in the scriptures. For whan [Page 123]the Arke of God was taken awaie from the people of Israel by the Philistines in batail, and the glorie of Israel brought under foote (the people being miserably for their sinnes pressed and plagued by the Philistines twentie yeares long) so that the people despering of their honour and libertie, and seing no mar [...]ial wepon, nor helpe of man hable to redresse their state, cried and continued in lamenting their thraldom and grevous condicion: at leynght by the advise and commaundement of the good Prophet Samuel, the people fell to these two meanes: Penaunce, and praier, with fasting: and the lorde God not only delivered them out of the oppression of the Philistines unto their former libertie, but also gave them suche victories, that the Philistines many yeares after, durst not ones move warre against them.
And albeit I doo it not so finely as som others can, but boisteously after my rude maner, yet I doubt not, but by Goddes grace ye shall finde confort, or at least perceave, that I have an earnest desire to see you holpen. For I meane your wealthe and healthe, as one brother ought of an other, that is borne of the same father and mother.
Ther was never great miserie, destruction, plage or visitacion of God, that came on any nacion, citie or countrey, which as they be in dede, so may they justly be called woundes, but be sent of God for sinne, and be not sodaynly layed on the people, but are before prophecied and declared by the prophetes and ministers of Goddes worde, or by some revelaciones, wondres, monstres in the earthe, or to kens and signes in the element.
For God as he is most just, and will not faile to punishe synne, so is he most mercifull, and will not the deathe of sinners, but rather that they should turne to him and lyve.
And therfore before hande geveth them warning what shall folowe, if in tyme they repent not, as by the histories of all ages it dothe appeare. And none of these admoniciones have ye lacked, countrey men.
For the preachers and ministers of Goddes worde, in the tyme of the godly Josias king Edwarde the Sixthe preached and prophecied unto you, what miseries and plages should certaynly come to you: the foode of Goddes worde to be cleane taken away from you, famyn of the body, pestilence, warres, the losse of your goodes, the deflouring and ravishing of your wyves and daughters before your eies, the captivitie of your bodies, wyves and children: the subversion of the policie and state of the Realme: that a straunge king and straunge people (not only in countrey, but also in condiciones and maners in respecte of your owne) should reigne and rule by force over you, if ye in tyme repented you not of your wickednesse, amended your lyves, and called to God for mercie.
The horible Comete and blasing starre that was sene this yeare greater in Englande than elles wher, what elles dothe it betoken, but the great displeasure of God? and therfore famin, pestilence, warres, sedicion, deathe of princes, invasion of forain naciones, destruction of som or many cities and countreies, and the alteracion and chaungeing of the state and governement? For if it be laufull for man to divine of Goddes wonderfull workes, and by the like thinges past, conjecture those that be to come: why should we not affirme, that these plages will folowe? Before the great warres made by Xerses against the Grecianes, and the overthrowing of the hole state of Grece, ther was a blasing starre sene of the shape of an hor [...]e, and an eclipse of the sunne.
Before the last and utter destruction of the citie of Jerusalem, ther was sene hanging in the element over the temple a burning sworde almost the space of a hole yeare. In the time of cruel Nero, ther was a Comete that continued sixe monethes.
After that folowed great sedicion and alteracion in the empire: and the kingdome of the Jewes (marke well) was utterly destroied. Before the deathe of our countrey man Constantine the great, who was the furst professour of the Gospell of Christ among all the emperours: and no doubt a special favourour and [Page 153] promotour of it. For he did not prohibite laie men to reade Goddes worde, as som princes doo at this tyme, but he caused examples of the Bible to be written at his owne charges, and sent in to all countreyes: ther was a great Comete, and afterwarde folowed a wonderfull and cruel warre, which who so deliteth in histories, maie perceave.
Before the dissension and deadly warres that was betwene the brethren of Lotarius the emperour, sonne of Lodovicus Piu [...]for the division of the inheritaunce (whereby suche slaughter grewe in Fraunce, that the Frenchemen were never after hable to recover perfitly their force) ther were many Cometes sene.
About the yeare of Christ M. I. ther was an horrible Comete sene, and than folowed wonderfull famines and pestilence?
But to retourne to the mater. Loke well England, loke well, whether this Comete past, and eclipses to come, touche the? Art thou not all ready plaged with famin? Yes, and with suche a famin, as thou never before heardest of. It is true, ye had darthes in the time of kinges Henry and Edwarde, but those were dearthes without nede: only they were occasioned by the gredinesse and malice of naughtie men without scarcitie or lacke of thinges: and for lacke of diligent overseing and good governement, and not by the directe plage of God. But these two yeares since king Edwardes deathe, from the restitucion of your cursed popishe masse, ye have had scarcitie by the directe plage of God. The earthe not brought furthe suche plaintie as it customably did before. Wher before time the countrey fedde London, London contrary wise was and is forced of her former provision to fede the countreie. Wher Dantis [...]e and other the northe east partes were the barnes and garners of corne, for they had the provision of corne for many yeares before hande, and nourished all the lowe partes of Germanie, Denmarke Friselande, holande, Zelande, Brabaunt, Flanders, Hispaine and many other: now by reason of their [Page 157] bringing so muche to releve Englande, onles a staie be made in time, they them selves will perishe of famin. Whan were ever thinges so deare in Englande, as in this time of the popish masse and other Idolatrie restored? Who ever hearde or redde before, that a pounde of beefe was at iiij. d. A shepe xx. s. A pounde of Candelles at iiij. d. A pounde of Buttur at iiij. d. ob. A pounde of Chese at iiij. d. two egges a penie, a quarter of wheat, lxiiij. s. A quartre of malt at l. s. or above: the people driven of hongre to grinde accornes for bread meale, and to drinke water in stede of ale? And what? Shall this famin awaie, before his walking mate and felowe (pestilence) come? No surely, without your earnest spedy repentaunce, and Goddes exceding miraculous mercie, it is not possible: for hitherto the one went never before, but the other cam either arme in arme, or elles quickly after.
But it shall almost come to late for common persones, for they be so hanged up by xx. and xl. in a plumpe (and a great nombre of them, bicause they confessed and professed, that they should be saved by thonly merites of Christes passion) that the pestilence shall have litel matier among the meane sorte to be occupied on: but therfore must be the more occupied with the great.
Have mercie on me, and forgeve me good lord, I beseche thee from the botome of my harte. This was the dissimulacion of the people for three or foure daies whiles thexecucion was: but after whan the rage was somwhat swaged, than returne they to their vomite, worse than ever they were. Than that they had before caused to be restored and geven in almose, they seke to recover by more evil favoured Chevisaunses. But God is not blynde, nother is his hande shortened: he hathe begonne to mete with you, and will paye you that he oweth you to thuttermost. But whether thou requirest me unfaynedly, to knowe how to avoide the plage to come, or doest dissemble with me, I hade rather thou shouldest be founde in fault, than I not to doo that I before promised thee. Goddes worde requireth and commaundeth every man to helpe his neighbour in worde and dede, as muche as in him lieth. I will therfore tell thee my best advise, and hartily pray God thou maiest earnestly folowe it. All these plages that before thou hast hearde rehearced, famyn, pestilence, sedicion, warres, destructiones of countrayes, captivitie of people and alteraciones of states, are the instrumentes of God sent and powred on the people for their synnes, that they should be sorie and repent them of their former wicked life, call to God for mercie, and leade a newe life in holynesse and righteousnesse al the dayes of their life: [Page 177] Which if ye will earnestly doo, no doubt but as God is mercifull, so will he use mercie towards you. For God that never deceaved any, but abhorreth all practices, all deceit, and all practicers (the workers of deceipt) promiseth it by the mouthe of his prophet Ezechiel. If (sayeth he) the ungodly will turne awaye from all his sinnes that he hathe done, and will kepe all my commaundementes, and doo the thing that is just and right, doubtles he shal lyve and not dye. For al the sines that he did before, shall not be thought upon any more: but in his righteousnesse that he hathe done, he shall lyve. For I have no pleasur in the deathe of a synner (saieth God) but that he should repent him of his wicked lyfe and lyve &c. It foloweth in the prophet thus wher fore repent and returne from your wickednesse, and your wickednesse shal not be your destruction. Caste from you all your ungodlynesse, make you a newe hart and a new spirite: wherfore will ye dye, O you house of Israel (that is, all such as trust to be saved by christ) seing I hare no pleasur in the deathe of him that dieth, sayeth the lorde God. Turne therfore, and ye shall lyve.