Reginald Pecock

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Reginald Pecock (or Peacock; c. 1395 – c. 1461) was a Welsh prelate, scholastic, and writer.


  • That I be the better and the clearer understood of the lay people in some words to be after spoken in this present book, I set now before to them this doctrine taken shortly out of the faculty of logic. An argument, if he be full and formal, which is cleped a syllogism, is made of two propositions, driving out of them, and by strength of them, the third proposition. Of the which three propositions the two first be cleped premisses, and the third following out of them is cleped the conclusion of them. And the first of those two premisses is cleped the first premiss, and the second of them is cleped the second premiss. And each such argument is of this kind, that if the both premisses be true the conclusion concluded out, and by them, is also true; and but if evereither of those premisses be true, the conclusion is not true. Ensample thereof is this: “Each man is at Rome, the Pope is a man, eke the Pope is at Rome.” So here be set forth two propositions, which be these: “Each man is at Rome,” and “The Pope is a man”; and these be the two premisses in this argument, and they drive out the third proposition, which is this: “The Pope is at Rome,” and it is the conclusion of the two premisses. Wherefore, certes, if any man can be sicker for any time that these two premisses be true, he may be sicker that the conclusion is true, though all the angels in heaven would say, and hold that, thilk conclusion were not true. And this is a general rule in every good and formal and full argument, that if his premisses be known for true the conclusion ought be avowed for true, whatever creature will say the contrary.
    What properties and conditions be required to an argument, that he be full and formal and good, is taught in logic by full, fair, and sure rules, and may not be taught of me here in this present book. But would God it were learned of all the common people in their mother’s language, for then they should thereby be put from much rudeness and boisterousness which they have now in reasoning; and then they should soon know and perceive when a skile and an argument bindeth and when he not bindeth, that is to say, when he concludeth and proveth his conclusion, and when he not so doeth; and then they should keep themselves the better from falling into errors, and they might the sooner come out of errors by hearing of arguments made to them, if they into any errors were fallen; and then they should not be so blunt and so rude and informal and boisterous in reasoning, and that both in their arguing and in their answering, as they now be; and then should they not be so obstinate against clerks and against their prelates, as some of them now be, for default of perceiving when an argument proceedeth into his conclusion of needs, and when he not so doeth, but seemeth only so do. And much good would come forth if a short compendious logic were devised for all the common people in their mother’s language; and, certes, to men of court, learning the king’s law of England in these days, thilk now said short compendious logic were full precious. Into whose making, if God will grant leave and leisure, I purpose sometime after mine other business for to essay.
    • The Uses of Logic. From Repressour, Part I
  • Of which first principal conclusion thus proved followeth further this corollary, that whenever and wherever in Holy Scripture, or out of Holy Scripture, be written any point or any governance of the said law of kind, it is more verily written in the book of man’s soul than in the outward book of parchment or of vellum; and if any seeming discord be betwixt the words written in the outward book of Holy Scripture and the doom of reason, writ in man’s soul and heart, the words so written withoutforth ought be expounded and be interpreted and brought for to accord with the doom of reason in thilk matter; and the doom of reason ought not for to be expounded, glazed, interpreted, and brought for to accord with the said outward writing in Holy Scripture of the Bible, or aughtwhere else out of the Bible. Forwhy, when ever any matter is treated by it which is his ground, and by it which is not his ground, it is more to trust to the treating which is made thereof the ground than by the treating thereof by it which is not thereof the ground; and if thilk two treatings ought not discord, it followeth that the treating done by it which is not the ground ought to be made for to accord with the treating which is made by it the ground. And therefore this corollary conclusion must needs be true.
    • Reason and Scripture. From Repressour, Part I
  • Even as grammar and divinity be two diverse faculties and cunnings, and therefore be unmeddled, and each of them hath his proper to him bounds and marks, how far and no farther he shall stretch himself upon matters, truths, and conclusions, and not to entermete, neither entermeene, with any other faculty’s bounds; and even as saddlery and tailory be two diverse faculties and cunnings, and therefore be unmeddled, and each of them hath his proper to him bounds and marks, how far and no farther he shall stretch himself forth upon matters, truths, and conclusions, and not intercommune with any other craft or faculty in conclusions and truths: so it is that the faculty of the said moral philosophy and the faculty of pure divinity, or the Holy Scripture, be two diverse faculties, each of them having his proper to him bounds and marks, and each of them having his proper to him truths and conclusions to be grounded in him, as the before-set six first conclusions shew.
    Wherefore followeth that he unreasonably and reprovably asketh, which asketh where a truth of moral philosophy is grounded in pure divinity or in Holy Scripture, and will not else trow it to be true; like as he should unreasonably and reprovably ask, if he asked of a truth in masonry, where it is grounded in carpentery; and would not else trow it be true, but if it were grounded in carpentery.
    No man object here against me to be about for to falsify this present thirteenth conclusion; and that, forasmuch as spurriers in London gild their spurs which they make, and cutlers in London gild their knives which they make, as though therefore spurrery and cutlery entermeened and interfered with goldsmith craft, and that these crafts kept not to themselves their proper and several to themselves bounds and marks. For certes though the spurrier and the cutler be learned in thilk point of goldsmith craft which is gilding, and therefore they use thilk point and deed and truth of goldsmith craft, yet thilk point of gilding is not of their craft but only of goldsmith craft; and so the crafts be unmeddled though one workman be learned in them both, and use them both, right as if one man had learned the all whole craft of goldsmithy and the all whole craft of cutlery, and would hold shops of both, and work somewhile the one craft and somewhile the other craft. Yet therefore those crafts in thilk man be not the less diverse, nor never the less keep their severalty in bounds and marks as in themselves, though one man be learned in them both, and can work them both, and hath them both. Yet it is impossible the one of those crafts for to enter and entermete with the truths of the other, though one man can work in them both: for then those two crafts were not two diverse crafts, not subordinate. And thus ought be avoided this objection, right as though a man were a knight and a priest; yet knighthood in thilk man is as far atwin from priesthood in the same man (as by their both natures and beings, though not in place or person), as be knighthood in one person and priesthood in an other person.
    • Divinity and Moral Philosophy. From Repressour, Part I
  • Peradventure they will say thus: Many hundreds of men clepe this image the Trinity, and they clepe this image Christ, and this image the Holy Ghost, and this image Mary, and this image Saint Peter, and this image Saint Paul, and so forth of other; and they would not so clepe, but if they felt and believed withinforth as they clepe withoutforth; for else they were double. Wherefore all those hundreds believe amiss about those images. Thereto it is full light for to answer. When I come to thee in thy parish church thou wilt peradventure say to me thus: Lo here lieth my father and there lieth my grandfather, and in the other side lieth my wife; and yet they lie not there, but only their bones lie there. If I come to thee into thine hall or chamber thou wilt peradventure say to me in describing the story painted or woven in thine hall or chamber: “Here rideth King Arthur, and there fighteth Julius Cæsar, and here Hector of Troy throweth down a knight,” and so forth. For though thou thus say thou wilt not hold thee for to say therein amiss. Shall I therefore bear thee hand that thou trowest thy father and thy grandfather and thy wife for to live and dwell in their sepulchres, or shall I bear thee an hand that thou trowest Arthur and Julius Cæsar and Hector to be quick in thy cloth, or that thou wert double in then so ruling of speech? I trow thou wouldest say I were uncourteous, or else unwise and foolish, if I should bear thee so an hand, if it liked thee for to so speak. And, if this be true, it followeth that as well thou art uncourteous, or else thou art to be excused of uncourtesy by thy great folly and madness, if thou bear me an hand that all the world full of clerks and of other laymen ween some images to be God, and some images to be quick Saints; or that they be double and guilefull, if they clepe an image of God by the name of God, and an image of a Saint by the name of a Saint. But (for more clearly this same answer to be understood) it is to wit, that if figurative speeches were not allowed to be had in use, that the image or the likeness of a thing may be cleped by the name of the thing of which he is image and likeness, and that the part of a thing may be cleped under and by the name of his whole, as that men say they have lived forty winters, meaning thereby that they have lived forty years, certes this challenge might well proceed and have his intent; but againward it is so that such figurative and unproper speech, for to clepe the image of a thing by and under the name of the thing of which he is image, hath been in famous use and hath been allowed both of Holy Scripture and of all peoples. And therefore, though men in such woned figurative speech say, “Here at this altar is the Trinity, and there at thilk altar is Jesus, and yonder is the Holy Ghost, and thereby is Mary with Saint Peter,” and so forth; it needeth not therefore be said that they mean and feel that this image is the Trinity, or that thilk image is verily Jesus, and so forth of other; but that these images be the likenesses or the images of them.
    • Reasonable Use of Images. From Repressour, Part II
  • For to turn now again into the matter of religious; though it be sufficiently now before answered to the second seeming skile made against those religious, yet into greater strengthening and enforcing of the same made answer and into the more clearing of this truth, that the said religious be not to be cut away from the church, I set thus much more here at this time: Though it were so, that no more excuse were to the said religious for to defend them from cutting away than which is before said (that out, from, and by them no sin cometh in the first said manner, but in the second said manner only; and therefore they deserve not to be cut away, namely sith they be means into great ghostly goods), yet more thereto for to excuse may be set thus: that greater sin would come from, by, and out of the cuttings away of those religious than cometh now from, by, and out of the havings and holdings of the same religious, and greater sin is letted by the being and holding of those religious than is all the sin by them coming; and therefore they ought much rather be maintained than be laid aside. That this is true, what is now said, I prove thus: Take me all the religious men of England, which be now and have been in religion in England this thirty years and more now ended, in which thirty years hath been continual great war betwixt England and France; and let see what should have worthe of the men in these years, if they had not been made religious. Let see how they should have lived, and what manner of men they should have been. Whether not they should have been as wellnigh all other men be and have been in this thirty-fourth winter in England; and therefore they should have been or guileful artificers, or unpitiful questmongers and forsworn jurors, or soldiers waged into France for to make much murther of blood, yea, and of souls, both in their own side and in the French side? Who can say nay thereto, but that right likely and as it were unscapably these evils and many more should have befallen to those persons, if they had not been religious? And no man can find againward that those persons, whiles they have lived in religion, have been guilty of so much sin, how much sin is now rehearsed; and of which they should have been guilty, if they had not been religious. Then followeth of need that the religious in England have been full noble and full profitable hedges and wards throughout these thirty-four years for to close and keep and hedge in and warn so many persons from so much greater sins into which else, if those religious had not been, those persons should have fallen and have been guilty. And soothly this skile (as me seemeth) ought move each man full much for to hold with such religious, if he be wise for to consider how sinful it is wellnigh all persons living out of religion; and into how cumbrous a plight the world is brought, that those sins (as it were) may not be left; and how that religious persons should be of like bad condition, if they were not in religion, and that in religion they be not of so bad condition, though they be men and not angels, and cannot live without all sin; and that the sin coming into them, whiles they be in religion, cometh not into them by the religion as by the first manner of coming before taught in the same chapter, but by the second manner of coming only.
    • Defence of Religious Orders. From Repressour, Part II


  • It is a matter of some difficulty to trace Pecock’s position during the stormy disputes that raged in England throughout his life. But it must be remembered that the religious struggles had passed into a new phase since Wycliffe’s days. On the one hand, the shades, of religious opinion had become much more numerous, and tendencies to unorthodoxy of creed were judged with a more critical eye. On the other hand, those who impugned the authority of the Church were the subject of more severe repressive laws, which were often turned against those who, while they defended ecclesiastical usages, based their defence upon principles which allowed too free a handling of matters which it was deemed the duty of the truly orthodox to hold the subject of implicit acceptance rather than of argument. We must also take account of the fact that political factions ran high, and that the patronage of such a man as the Duke of Gloucester was in itself a ground for the bitter hatred of those who sought to supplant the Duke. After Gloucester’s fall, Pecock seems to have been adroit enough to secure the patronage of his opponent, the Duke of Suffolk; but the influence of Suffolk, as the adherent of Queen Margaret, was short-lived; and after his murder Pecock seems to have become an object of hatred both to the people and to the now dominant faction, who used the charge of heresy to crush him, or lent their aid to those who determined to crush him for his heretical opinions.
    The Repressour had defended certain usages or “governances” of the Church—the use of images, pilgrimage, clerical endowments, the orders of the clergy, the primacy of the Pope, and the religious orders—which had been made the subject of attack and satire by the Lollards. But he defended these, frequently, not by the authority of Scripture or the Church, but by an appeal to reason, and by arguing that they were not forbidden by Scripture. He constantly seeks to appeal to natural reason, or “reason of kind” as he calls it. The danger of such a defence was evident; but what is not so clear is the reason for Pecock being selected for persecution, and the means by which his enemies were able to stir up against him what was apparently a strong current of popular opinion. His Treatise of Faith touched an even more dangerous point; and the unorthodox tendency of his teaching became more plain, when in that work he attacked the thesis, then stoutly maintained, “That the faith hath no merit which is proved by human reason.”
    Whatever may have been the contributing causes of his downfall, it is plain that Pecock became the object of intense hatred. In 1457 he was expelled from a Council of Lords, spiritual and temporal, at London, and was soon after arraigned for heresy. His conduct now proved that he did not possess the courage of his opinions. He attempted feebly to maintain the orthodoxy of his utterances; but brought face to face with the alternative of recantation or a martyr’s death, he scarcely hesitated in his choice. His attitude, indeed, seems that of one who had adopted certain views from conceit or love of novelty rather than from conviction. He must die in his errors, he said in effect, or be put to shame by recantation; and he chose the latter alternative. This did not, however, secure him from the vengeance of his enemies. He was deprived of his bishopric, and confined in strict durance, and on a meagre pension, in Thorney Abbey, where he died.
    In judging Pecock’s style we must take account not only of the events of his time and of his religious attitude, but also of the temper and character of the man. He was evidently a man of boundless conceit, which pleased itself by constant flattering references to his own works, and to the ample support which they afford, in his own opinion, to the positions he maintains. There is little of devotion or heartiness in his religious writings, which seem to be the fruit of a mind pleased with the refinements of scholastic reasoning, and enjoying its own acuteness. Many of the arguments he employs are far-fetched and ingenious rather than fitted to convince us of the sincerity of the writer. But the chief interest of his works, as the earliest specimens of strictly controversial prose writing, lies in the curious combination of a refinement and subtlety little suited to his age, with the choice of the vernacular as his medium of expression. This moved his accusers to attack as impious the handling of religious mysteries in the tongue of the vulgar, and it was evidently adopted by Pecock in order to secure greater popularity. His diction is archaic for his own age, and is even affected in its discarding of all those stores with which not Chaucer only, but even Wycliffe, had enriched our language. The strained archaicism—because we can call it nothing else—is all the more curious when taken in connection with the elaborate statement of arguments in the logical forms of the schools, with his accuracy of definition, and with his careful recapitulation of terms, which might remind us of the iteration of a legal document. In Pecock, as in those of a later day whose aims and motives we may more exactly gauge, “the style was the man”; and we must not forget in judging that style that it is the expression of a mind acute rather than strong; supporting views which were not inspired by devotion, but developed with ingenuity; following a method borrowed from the schoolmen, but choosing a medium by which he might reach the ear of the people.
    • Henry Craik, "Reginald Pecock" (in) Henry Craik, ed. English Prose Selections, Vol. 1 (New York & London: Macmillan & Co. 1916)
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