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Response to Review of Archbishop Pole

I am most grateful to Dr Young for his review, which stresses all the main points that I wanted to make about Cardinal Pole’s character and life. I would simply like to add a few glosses to what he and I have said.

Firstly, I think it is impossible to overstate the importance of the point that, during most of Pole’s lifetime, and particularly in the 1540s and 1550s, there was still great doctrinal flexibility, across what was about to become the Catholic-Protestant divide. In a sense, my treatment of Pole’s life, completed with the Church still divided, fulfils a kind of ‘debt of honour’ to the ecumenical surge of the 1960s and 1970s. Already, as a History undergraduate at Oxford in the late 1960s, I wanted to study particularly the divisions of the 16th-century Church, and this biography is a late result. I hope that it will contribute, in at least a small way, to a more general realisation among Christians that adherence to dogma must always be balanced by an appreciation of the spontaneity and unpredictability of Christ.

In the specific case, secondly, of the departure of Pole from the Council of Trent in 1547, on which Dr Young rightly says that I take a cautious line, I am inclined to think that both the customary explanations have truth in them. There are various pieces of evidence indicating that the Cardinal’s health was frequently poor, long before his final illness, in the autumn of 1558. However, there is such a current of opinion, among his friends as well as his enemies, that he tended to duck out of difficult situations, that this explanation must be taken into consideration too. At the time when the Council of Trent debated the question of ‘justification’, there was no definitive pronouncement by the Church on the subject, but Pole had failed to have the Reformers’ arguments properly considered in the Council, and knew the inevitable result. His health could be used as an entirely valid alibi, but he remained reluctant, for the rest of his life, to utter on the subject that had so preoccupied him, and his Viterbo circle, in the 1540s.

Finally, I entirely understand Dr Young’s wish that more time and space had been devoted to Pole’s legacy among English Catholics in later centuries, but I suspect that he knows far more about that subject than I do!