Ponce De La Fuente, Constantine
Ponce de la Fuente, Constantine a Spanish martyr to the Protestant cause, was a native of San Clemente de la Mancha, in the diocese of CuenDa. Possessing a good taste and a love of genuine knowledge, he evinced an early disgust for the barbarous pedantry of the schools, and an attachment to such of his countrymen as sought to revive the study of polite letters. Being intended for the Church, he made himself master of Greek and Hebrew, but at the same time learned to write and speak his native language with uncommon purity and elegance. Like Erasmus, with whose writings he was early captivated, he was distinguished for his lively wit, which he took pleasure in indulging at the expense of foolish preachers and hypocritical monks. But he was endowed with greater firmness and decision of character than the philosopher of Rotterdam. During his attendance at the university Ponce's youthful spirit had betrayed him into irregularities, of which his enemies afterwards took an ungenerous advantage; but these were succeeded by the utmost decorum and correctness of manners, though he always retained his gay temper, and could never deny himself his jest. Notwithstanding the opportunities he had of enriching himself, he was so exempt from avarice that his library, which he valued above all his property, was never large. His eloquence caused his services in the pulpit to be much sought after; but he was free from vanity, the besetting sin of orators, and scorned to prostitute his talents at the shrine of popularity. He declined the situation of preacher in the cathedral of Cuenga, which was offered him by the unanimous vote of the chapter. When the more honorable and lucrative office of preacher to the metropolitan church of Toledo was afterwards tendered to him, after thanking the chapter for their good opinion of him, he declined it, alleging as a reason "that he would not disturb the bones of their ancestors," alluding to a dispute between them and the archbishop Siliceo, who had insisted that his clergy should prove the purity of their descent. Whether it was predilection for the Reformed opinions that induced him at first to fix his residence at Seville is uncertain but once there we find him co-operating with AEgidius in his plans for disseminating scriptural knowledge. The emperor, having heard him preach during a visit to that city, was so much pleased with the sermon that he immediately named Ponce one of his chaplains, to which he added the office of almoner; and he soon after appointed him to accompany his son Philip to Flanders, "to let the Flemings see that Spain was not destitute of polite scholars and orators." Constantine made it a point of duty to obey the orders of his sovereign, and reluctantly quitted his residence in Seville, for which he had hitherto rejected the most tempting offers. His journey gave him the opportunity of becoming personally acquainted with some of the Reformers. Among these was Jacob Schopper, a learned man of Biberach, in Suabia, by whose conversation his views of evangelical doctrine were greatly enlarged and confirmed. In 1555 Ponce returned to Seville, and his presence imparted a new impulse to the Protestant cause in that city. A benevolent and enlightened individual having founded a professorship of divinity in the College of Doctrine, Ponce was appointed to the chair; and by means of the lectures which he read on the Scriptures, together with the instruction of Fernando de St. Juan, provost of the institution, the minds of many of the young were opened to the truth. On the first Lent after his return to Seville he was, besides, chosen by the chapter to preach every alternate day in the cathedral church. So great was his popularity that, though the public service did not begin till eight o'clock in the morning, yet, when he was announced to preach the church would be filled by four, and even by three o'clock. Being newly recovered from a fever when he commenced his labors, he felt so weak that it was necessary for him repeatedly to pause during the sermon, on which account he was allowed to recruit his strength by taking a draught of wine in the pulpit, a permission which had never been granted to any other preacher.
While Constantine was pursuing this career of honor and usefulness, he involved himself in difficulties by coming forward as a candidate for the place of canon magistral in the cathedral of Seville, which had become vacant by the death of AEgidius. Ponce did not want the office, but his friends pressed him to lay aside his scruples; and an individual who had great influence over his mind represented so strongly the services which he would be able to render to the cause of truth in so influential a situation, and the hurtful effects which would result from its being occupied by some noisy and ignorant declaimer, that he consented at last to offer himself a candidate. In spite of all manner of accusations and opposition he carried his election, was installed in his new office, and commenced his duty as preacher in the cathedral with high acceptance. From his visit abroad Ponce, like many other preachers whom the Spanish Romanists sent to the Netherlands "to give light to others, returned home blind, having followed the example of the heretics" (Juescas, Historia Pontifical, 2, 337, b). In 1555 he had embraced the Protestant faith. Now that he had dared to assume the responsibilities of the Seville cathedral canonate, the envious priests, disappointed in their own seekings, boldly confronted Ponce with his heretical opinions, and loudly urged the Inquisition to take its aim at this new-made cathedral dignitary; and when, in 1559 the familiars were let loose on the Protestants of Seville, Ponce was among the first who were apprehended. Among his books was found a treatise, in his own handwriting, on the points of controversy between the Church of Rome and the Protestants, and as Ponce had chosen to take sides with Luther and Calvin, and, when shown the work, not only acknowledged its authorship, but added, "You have there a full and candid confession of my belief; I am in your hands do with me as seemeth to you good," his doom was sealed. Though put to the torture to reveal his associates and fellow-believers, he refused steadfastly to bring suffering upon any one else. After two years of imprisonment, oppressed and worn out by a mode of living so different from what he had been used to, he died before his enemies could bring him to public execution. It was slanderously reported that he had committed suicide, but a young monk and fellow-prisoner denied the calumny. Dec. 22, 1560, his effigy and bones were brought out in the public auto-da-fé, but the people, who had always greatly revered Ponce, rose up in rebellion, and the services were continued in private. In the character of Ponce's writings we have one of the clearest indications of the excellence of his heart. They were of that kind which were adapted to the spiritual wants of his countrymen, and not calculated to display his own talents. or to acquire for himself a name in the learned world. They were composed in his native tongue, and in a style level to the lowest capacity. Abstruse speculations and rhetorical ornaments, in which he was qualified both by nature and education to excel, were rigidly sacrificed to the one object of being understood by all, and useful to all. Among his works were a Catechism, whose highest recommendation is its artless and infantine simplicity; a small treatise on The Doctrine of Christianity, drawn up in the familiar form of a dialogue between a master and his pupil, which, without being deficient in simplicity, is more calculated to interest persons of learning and advanced knowledge; an Exposition of the First Psalm, in four sermons, which show that his pulpit eloquence, exempt from the common extremes, was neither degraded by vulgarity nor rendered disgusting by affectation and effort at display; and the Confession of a Sinner, in which the doctrines of the Gospel, poured from a contrite and humbled spirit, assume the form of the most edifying and devotional piety. See Antonius, Bibl. Hist. Nov. 1, 256; M'Crie, Hist. of the Ref. in Spain, p. 154-156, 207 sq., 262 sq. (J. H.W.)