Sergeant, John (DNB00)
|←Seres, William||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 51
SERGEANT, JOHN (1622–1707), Roman catholic controversialist, son of William Sergeant, yeoman, of Barrow-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire, was born there in 1622, and educated in a private school kept by Mr. Rawson in the neighbouring village of Barton. He was admitted a sub-sizar of St. John's College, Cambridge, on 12 April 1639. In 1641 he contributed verses to the university collection of poems on the king's return from Scotland, and in 1642–3 he graduated B.A. He became secretary to Thomas Morton, bishop of Durham, upon the recommendation of Dr. William Beale [q. v.], master of St. John's. This position he held for about a year, during which time he was employed in transcribing quotations from the ancient fathers. His researches in early ecclesiastical history resulted in his conversion to the Roman catholic church. Afterwards retiring to the English College at Lisbon, he went through a course of theology and was ordained priest. For some time he was prefect of studies, and in 1652 he was sent on the English mission. His brethren soon after his arrival made him a canon and secretary of their chapter. Finding him well skilled in controversial writing, they encouraged him to undertake the defence of the catholic cause, and this he did with remarkable assiduity for upwards of forty years. He was, indeed, the ‘very genius of controversy,’ and there was no great protestant writer of his time that he did not encounter. In his ‘Literary Life,’ written in 1700, he states that he had printed thirty-two books at a cost of over 800l., which sum he paid out of his own earnings, without burdening catholics or any of his brethren (Catholicon, iii. 127). In 1675 he was at Rouen, where he became well acquainted with the Abbé Walter Montagu [q. v.], and during his residence in France he lived on terms of intimacy with Bossuet, to whom he dedicated his ‘Methodus Compendiosa.’ In 1688 he was engaged in the composition of a second answer to Tillotson's ‘Rule of Faith,’ and seven sheets of it had been struck off by Bennet, the catholic printer, when the mob, rising at the Revolution, plundered the press, seized all the printed sheets, and took away some of the ‘copy.’ For two years after this Sergeant had enough to do to provide for his own safety, passing himself off as a physician and assuming at different times the names of Dodd, Holland, and Smith. ‘He was unmanageable all his life,’ observes one of his friends, Sylvester Jenks, in his unpublished letters to another of Sergeant's friends, Father Fairfax, ‘and ended his days with printing libels, in which he abused, not only me, but many of my betters in a much more scurrilous manner than ever he did you or yours.’ He died, ‘with a pen in his hand,’ in 1707.
Charles Plowden remarks that Sergeant was ‘the author of a system of controversy entirely grounded on the erroneous principles of Blackloe [i.e. Thomas White (1582–1676), q. v.], which he published in a book entitled “Sure Footing.” This book was attacked by catholic and protestant divines, especially by Dr. Peter Talbot, catholic archbishop of Dublin; and it was defended in various tracts by the author. He seems to have possessed a small share of ill-digested knowledge, much presumption, and an ardent temper, suited to the genius of faction and party. He was closely connected, in friendship and error, with Blackloe, and also with … Hobbes. Among the catholics he was usually called “Blackloe's Philip,” in allusion to the secondary part which Philip Melanchthon acted under Luther’ (Remarks on the Memoirs of Gregorio Panzani, 1794, p. 285). An account of Sergeant's theological opinions is given in Peter Talbot's ‘Blackloanæ Heresis … Historia et Confutatio,’ 1675, 4to, published under Talbot's pseudonym, ‘Lominus’ [see Talbot, Peter]. He must doubtless be distinguished from the John Sergeant whose evidence with regard to Oates's plot was printed by order of the House of Commons, 1681, fol.
The controversialist's works are: 1. English verses addressed ‘To Sir Kenelme Digby upon his two incomparable Treatises of Philosophy’ [London, 1653], 4to. 2. ‘Schism disarm'd of the Defensive Weapons lent it by Doctor Hammond and the Bishop of Derry,’ Paris, 1655, 8vo. 3. ‘Schism Dispatcht, or a Rejoynder to the Replies of Dr. Hammond and the Ld. of Derry’ [J. Bramhall], [Paris?], 1657, 8vo. 4. ‘Reflections upon the Oath of Supremacy and Allegiance. By a Catholic Gentleman,’ 1661, 12mo (cf. Butler, Historical Memoirs, iii. 430). 5. ‘An Answer to Dr. Pierce's Sermon’ [on Matthew, xix. 8], n. p., 1663, 8vo. 6. ‘Sure Footing in Christianity, or Rational Discourses on the Rule of Faith. With three short Animadversions on Dr. Pierce's Sermon; also on some Passages in Mr. Whitby and Mr. Stillingfleet which concern that Rule. By J. S.,’ London, 1665, 8vo; a second edition appeared the same year with ‘an appendix, subverting fundamentally and manifoldly my Ld. of Down's [i.e. Jeremy Taylor's] Dissuasive,’ and a ‘Letter to Dr. Casaubon.’ 7. ‘A Discovery of the Groundlessness and Insincerity of my Ld. of Down's Dissuasive. Being the Fourth Appendix to Svre-Footing. With a Letter to Dr. Casaubon, and another to his Answerer. By J. S.,’ London, 1665, 8vo. 8. ‘Let Common Reason be Judge,’ a treatise on the use of holy images in answer to B. Horwood [1665?]. 9. ‘Sober Advice to Mr. Gataker’ [1666?]. 10. ‘The Solid Grounds of the Roman Catholic Faith,’ in answer to Dr. Matthew Poole's ‘Nullity of the Romish Faith,’ Oxford, 1666, 8vo. 11. ‘A Letter of Thanks from the Author of Sure-Footing to his Answerer, Mr. J. T[illotson],’ Paris, 1666, 8vo. 12. ‘Faith vindicated from Possibility of Falshood’ [anon.], Louvain, 1667, 8vo. 13. ‘The Method to arrive at Satisfaction in Religion’ (anon.) , 12mo. 14. ‘Errour nonplust; or, Dr. Stillingfleet shown to be the Man of no Principles. With an Essay how Discourses concerning Catholick Grounds bear the Highest Evidence’ (anon.), 1673, 8vo. 15. ‘Methodus compendiosa qua recto pervestigatur et certo invenitur Fides Christiana,’ Paris, 1674, 12mo; dedicated to Bossuet. 16. ‘Clypeus Septemplex. Declaratio D. Sergeantii circa doctrinam in libris suis contentam exhibita Sacræ Congregationi … Cardinalium in universa Christiana Republica contra hæreticam pravitatem Generalium Inquisitorum: appendix seu querimonia J. Sergeantii adversus M. Lominum [i.e. Peter Talbot, catholic archbishop of Dublin] …’ Douay, 1677, 8vo. 17. ‘Vindiciæ J. Sergeantii tribunalibus Romano et Parisiensi, ubi ab illmo P. Talboto … de doctrina prava accusatus fuit, in librorum suorum defensionem exhibitæ’ [Douay], 1678, 8vo. 18. ‘A Letter to the D.[ean] of P. [St. Paul's, i.e. Dr. E. Stillingfleet] in Answer to the arguing part of his first Letter to Mr. G.[odden]’ (anon.) London, 1687, 4to; a reply to this was published anonymously by Clement Ellis, M.A. 19. ‘A Second Catholic Letter; or, Reflections on the Reflecter [Clement Ellis]'s Defence of Dr. Stillingfleet's First Letter to Mr. G[odden] against the Answer to the arguing part of it’ (anon.), London, 1687, 4to. 20. ‘A Third Catholic Letter in answer to the arguing Part of Dr. Stillingfleet's Second Letter’ (anon.), London, 1687, 4to. 21. ‘The Fourth Catholick Letter in answer to Dr. Stillingfleet's Sermon preach'd at Guild-hall, Nov. 27, 1687, entituled Scripture & Tradition compared; addrest to his Auditory,’ London, 1688, 4to. 22. ‘The Fifth Catholic Letter in reply to Dr. Stillingfleet's (pretended) Answer to about the Fortieth Part of J. S.'s Catholic Letters, addrest to all impartial Readers,’ London, 1688, 4to. 23. ‘A Letter to [William Wake] the Continuator of the Present State of our Controversy. Laying open the Folly of his extravagant Boasting, and the Malice of his Willfull Forgeries’ [1688?]. 24. ‘The Sixth Catholick Letter, laying open the Folly of the Continuator's extravagant Boasting, and the Malice of his wilful Forgeries. In which also the Accounts between J. S.'s two Adversaries, Dr. Stillingfleet and Dr. Tillotson, are cast up’ [London, 1688], 4to. 25. ‘The Schism of the Church of England, &c. demonstrated in four Arguments. Formerly propos'd to Dr. Gunning and Dr. Pearson, the late Bishops of Ely and Chester, by two Catholick Disputants in a celebrated Conference upon that Point’ (anon.), Oxford, 1688, 4to. 26. A second answer to Tillotson's ‘Rule of Faith,’ London, 1688, 8vo, partly printed but never published. 27. ‘The Method to Science. By J. S.,’ London, 1696, 8vo. 28. ‘Solid Philosophy asserted against the Fancies of the Ideists: or the Method to Science farther illustrated. With Reflexions on Mr. Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding. By J. S.,’ London, 1697, 8vo. Mr. James Crossley, F.S.A., says: ‘I have Locke's copy of Sergeant's ‘Solid Philosophy asserted,’ the margins of which are filled with answers in Locke's autograph to the animadversions contained in that book. It is somewhat strange that neither these nor his manuscript notes on the pamphlets of Thomas Burnett of the Charterhouse, written against the “Essay on the Human Understanding,” which are also in my possession, have ever been published or noticed by his biographers’ (Worthington, Diary, ii. 193n.). 29. ‘Raillery defeated by calm Reasoning,’ London, 1699, 12mo. 30. ‘Transnatural Philosophy, or Metaphysicks: demonstrating the Essences and Operations of all Beings whatever, which gives the Principles to all other Sciences. And shewing the perfect Conformity of Christian Faith to Right Reason, and the Unreasonableness of Atheists, Deists, Antitrinitarians, and other Sectaries. By J. S.,’ London, 1700, 8vo; 2nd edit. London, 1706, 8vo. 31. ‘The Literary Life of John Sergeant. Written by Himself in Paris, 1700, at the Request of the Duke of Perth,’ London, 1816, 8vo, edited by John Kirk, D.D. 32. ‘An Account of the Chapter erected by William [Bishop] titular Bishop of Chalcedon, and Ordinary of England and Scotland,’ 16mo; reprinted, with preface and notes by William Barclay Turnbull, London, 1853, 8vo. 33. ‘Transactions relating to the English Secular Clergy,’ 1706. 34. ‘The Jesuit's Gospel,’ a pamphlet which was repudiated by the whole of the catholic clergy (Gillow, iii. 619). ‘Schism Unmask'd,’ 1658, is ascribed to Sergeant by Dolman, but the real author was the jesuit father, John Percy (cf. Jones, Popery Tracts).
Among those who published replies to works by Sergeant were Hammond, Bramhall, Pierce, Casaubon, Taylor, Stillingfleet, Whitby, Tillotson, Wilkins, Poole, Gataker, W. Falkner, Clement Ellis, and George Hughes.[Addit. MS. 5880, f. 189; Birch's Life of Tillotson, pp. 33, 34, 35, 371, 409; Bodleian Cat.; Bonney's Life of Jeremy Taylor, p. 349; Bramhall's Works (1842), Life, pp. xxviii, xxix, vol. ii. p. 358 n.; Catholicon (1816), ii. 129–36, 169–176, 217–24, iii. 9–16, 55–64, 97–104, 121–7, 248; Commons' Journals, ix. 710, 711; Dodd's Church Hist. iii. 472; Foulis's Romish Treasons and Usurpations, pref. p. vii; Gillow's Bibl. Dict. iv. 49; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anonymous Lit.; Pref. to Hickes's Devotions in the Ancient Way of Offices, 2nd edit. 1701; Jones's Popery Tracts, p. 484; Panzani's Memoirs, pp. xiv, 93 n. 326 n. 382, 384; Sergeant's Literary Life, 1816; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 496, iv. 1053, 1055.]