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Significant Scots
Robert Pont


PONT, ROBERT, a churchman, judge of the court of session, and political and scientific writer of some eminence, was born at Culross, cir. 1524-30, of honourable, if not noble, parentage. After receiving his elementary education at the school of his native place, he was, in 1543, incorporated a student of St Leonard’s college in St Andrews, where he prosecuted the study of philosophy and divinity with great success. From the period of his leaving the university, no notice of him has been discovered, till 1559, when he is mentioned as an elder in the kirk session record of St Andrews. His intimate knowledge of law, renders the supposition probable, that the interval was employed in that branch of study at some of the continental universities. He seems to have early embraced the protestant party. He was an elder of St Andrews from a very early period, and attended, as one of the commissioners from that place, the first General Assembly, by which he was declared qualified for ministering and teaching. In the year 1563, he competed for the office of superintendent of the diocese of Galloway. He appears to have failed in the attempt, but was shortly after appointed commissioner of the diocese of Moray. In 1566, he published, with the sanction and command of the General Assembly, a "Translation and Interpretation of the Helvetian Confession." In January, 1571, he was, through the same influence, appointed to the provostry of Trinity college, Edinburgh, and afterwards to the vicarage of St Cuthbert’s church. At the same period he followed the directions of his party by excommunicating the bishop of Orkney, who had performed the marriage ceremony to Mary and Bothwell. Policy at this time dictated that the judicial dignities which had been conferred on the Roman catholic churchmen should be extended to the new church, of which the members, while their general principles were rather averse to the system, possessed some share of personal ambition, and in 1571, the regent proposed that Pont should be appointed a senator of the College of Justice. The zealous churchman declined acceptance without the sanction of the assembly, and on the 12th January, 1572, that body gave license "to the said Mr Robert to accept and use the said place of a senator in the said College of Justice, what tyme he shall be required thereto, providing allwayes, that he leave not the office of the ministrie, but that he exercise the same as he sould be appoynted be the kirke, and this their license to the said Mr Robert to be no preparative to no uther minister to procure sic promotione, unless the kirke’s advyse be had of before, and license obtained thereunto." The natural consequence of such an appointment seems to have taken place, and in the following year, he was charged with neglect of duty in non-residence, and not sufficiently visiting the churches in Moray, an accusation to which he very naturally pleaded want of leisure from the pressure of his new duties. In 1574, Mr Pont was appointed colleague to William Harlaw, minister of St Cuthbert’s church, Edinburgh. He was now employed in all the more important business of the church: he was appointed, in 1574, to revise all books that were printed and published; about the same period he drew up the calendar, and rules for understanding it, for Arbuthnot. and Bassandyne’s edition of the Bible; and he was engaged in the preparation of the Second Book of Discipline. In 1582, he was invited to become minister of St Andrews, and seems to have accepted the appointment, but he was soon obliged to abandon it; for at the General Assembly, held in April, 1583, he declared that, "with losse of his heritage and warldlie commoditie, he had proponit to sit down in St Andrews, and had served at his awin charges ane haill yeir, and culd not half any equall condition of leving, na not the least provision." He accordingly returned to his charge at the West church. In 1584, when James struck a blow at the church, by rendering it criminal to decline the jurisdiction of the privy council, and to hold assemblies without the royal permission, Pont added his name to the list of the gallant defenders of the church, by solemnly protesting against the acts as they were published at the cross of Edinburgh, on the ground that they had been passed without the knowledge or consent of the church Two days before, (23rd May, 1584,) he had been deprived of his seat in the College of Justice, by an act prohibiting ecclesiastics to hold civil appointments, and he now, with many of the clergy, who were alarmed at so bold an inroad, fled to England. He returned to Scotland with the earl of Angus and his party, a few months afterwards, and resumed his ministerial duties. In 1587, he was nominated to the bishopric of Caithness; but the assembly refused to ratify the appointment. In 1591, the assembly appointed him to write against sacrilege; his Three Sermons on that subject were approved of, and ordered to be printed by the Presbytery of Edinburgh, November 12, 1594 (See Records), but from some unknown cause, were not published till 1599. In 1594, be published "A New Treatise on the right reckoning of Yeares and Ages of the World," for the purpose of showing that the year 1600 was not, as his countrymen supposed, the proper year of the jubilee. In 1601, he was appointed by the General Assembly to revise the Psalms. In 1596 and 1602, he was chosen commissioner of Orkney, and his name was first in the list of those who were intended for the qualified prelacies. In 1604, he published a tract on the union of the kingdoms, "De Unione Britanniae, seu de Regnorum Angliae etScotiae omniumque adjacentium insularum in unam Monarchiam consolidatione, deque multiplici ejus Unionis utilitate Dialogus." Mr Fraser Tytler, who appears to have perused it, says, [Life of Sir Thomas Craig, 218.] "This political treatise, which is written in Latin, in the form of a dialogue between three fictitious speakers, Irenaeus, Polyhistor, and Hospes, is chiefly valuable from its furnishing us with some curious pictures of the political state of the country, and the rude manners of the times.* * * The picture he presents of the intolerable tyranny of the nobles in their strong and remote fortresses, of the impotency of the arm of the law, and the personal terrors of the judges, who trembled before these petty princes, very completely proves that there was no poetical exaggeration in the verses of Sir Richard Maitland." Pont died on the 8th May, 1606, and was interred, it is said, in the church of St Cuthbert’s, where a monument was erected to his memory, with an epitaph, partly in English, partly in very questionable Latin. He had prepared a more ample edition of his work on the Jubilee Year, which was published in quarto, in 1619. [Sibbald Bibliotheca Scotica (MS. Adv. Lib.) 224, 225. In the second part of this work, there is put down to the name of Roberius Pontanus, "Parvus Catechismus quo examinari, possunt qui ad sacram coenam admittuntur." Andrean. 1573. For a more full account of Pont, see History of the Church and Parish of St Cuthberts, Edinburgh, 1829, pp. 20-41, and Wodrow’s Biog. Coll. vol. i.] Besides these works Pont wrote Chronologia de Sabbatis, published at London in 1626. His Aureum Seculum, his Translation of Pindar’s Olympic Odes, his Dissertation on the Greek Lyric Metres, his Lexicon of Three Languages, and Collection of Homilies, all of which David Buchanan says he saw in MS. are now nowhere to be found.


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