Punch (Pontius, Ponce), John (1603–c.1660×73), philosopher, theologian, and controversialist, was born in Cork of an Anglo-Irish family. Nothing is known of his parents, his early years, or his education before he entered the novitiate of the Irish Franciscans at St Anthony's College, Louvain. His brother Edmund also became a Franciscan. On completing his novitiate he studied philosophy at Cologne before returning to Louvain to study theology under Friar John Colgan (qv) and Friar Hugh Ward (qv). His outstanding academic ability brought him to the attention of Friar Luke Wadding (qv), at whose request Punch, Friar Felix Dempsey, and Friar Bonaventure Delahoid were the first students to enter the newly established Irish Franciscan college of St Isidore in Rome on 7 September 1625. His professors were Friar Patrick Fleming (qv) (philosophy) and Friar Antony Hickey ((qv) theology), both distinguished Scotists.
On completing his studies, Punch succeeded Fleming as professor of philosophy and, after lecturing twice on the entire philosophy course, was appointed professor of theology at St Isidore's. The statutes of the college give some insight into Punch's intellectual milieu at this time. As professor he was required to lecture to his students for two hours daily allowing a further hour for discussion. There were twice weekly debates and theologians were required to attend those of the philosophers. Each month there was a public debate open to all comers, including lay people. In 1630 he succeeded Friar Martin Walsh as rector of the Ludovisian College, which Wadding had established adjacent to St Isidore's to educate candidates for the Irish secular priesthood, until it was handed over to the Jesuits in 1635.
Punch soon emerged as a leading exponent of the teaching of the Franciscan philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus. Like his confrères at St Isidore's and St Anthony's, Louvain, Punch firmly believed that Scotus was of Irish birth. Although this view was mistaken, it contributed to the emergence of St Isidore's as the foremost Scotist school of the period, and its alumni were appointed to numerous prestigious academic posts throughout catholic Europe. Punch's brother Edmund taught philosophy at Segovia and theology at Valladolid, and from 1648 Punch himself was based primarily in Paris, with occasional teaching commitments at Lyons. Along with Wadding he played a seminal role in preparing the first full edition of the works of Scotus, published in twelve volumes at Lyons (1639). Another of his academic achievements was to restructure the teaching of Scotist philosophy by providing what he claimed was the first complete course in the subject, his Philosophiae ad mentem Scoti cursus integer (1642–3). Originally published in three volumes it was re-edited and published as a single volume in Paris (1648). His approach was regarded as revolutionary by his contemporaries but attracted intense criticism from the Conventual Franciscan and Scotist philosopher Friar Bartholomew Mastrius, who was producing a similar textbook. Mastrius particularly objected to Punch's methodology, arguing that neither his conclusions nor his argumentation were faithful to Scotus. Punch refuted these charges in his Appendix apologetica (1648), arguing that while he accepted all of Scotus's conclusions he did not necessarily feel obliged to accept all the proofs outlined by him. This appeased Mastrius, who conceded that Punch had shed much light on some of Scotus's more obscure doctrine. Punch also published the Integer theologiae ad mentem Scoti (1652), a textbook of Scotist theology modelled on his philosophy course.
In France Punch became involved in the bitter disputes that divided the Irish émigré population following the defeat of the Irish catholic confederacy. Throughout the 1640s he had acted as an agent in Rome for the confederate catholics, strongly supporting the papal nuncio, GianBattista Rinuccini (qv), against the royalist party. In Paris he came into conflict with Richard Bellings (qv), secretary of the confederate supreme council, and his associate the Irish priest John Callaghan (qv), who attacked Rinuccini's supporters in the Vindiciarum catholicorum Hiberniae. Punch had harboured suspicions about Bellings since their first encounter at St Isidore's in 1644, and attempted to refute these charges in his Richardi Bellingi vindicae eversae (1653). In particular he defended the decision of the nuncio in 1648 to excommunicate those confederates who had supported a truce with protestant forces commanded by Lord Inchiquin (qv). He also defended his confrère Paul King (qv), Rinuccini's special agent, whose plot in 1648 with Owen Roe O'Neill (qv) against the marquess of Ormond (qv) was regarded as an act of treachery by Bellings. A doctrinal edge to the dispute is evident in his attack on Callaghan, whom he accused of Jansenist leanings. In his response in 1654 Bellings effectively dismissed Punch as one who had spent too long abroad to appreciate the complexities of Irish politics.
Further disputes arose with the French Recollect Franciscans in Paris as the Irish friary there became increasingly important as a place of refuge for Irish friars throughout the 1650s. Their increased numbers led to protests from the French friars, who feared the impact they would have on their own sources of support and questioned their standards of discipline. The minister provincial of the French Franciscan Recollects was appointed commissary over the Irish in May 1657. This arrangement proved unsatisfactory and was revoked in September that year, when Punch was appointed with instructions to investigate the complaints. A compromise solution emerged in November 1657 when a French Observant friar was appointed commissary with the dual brief to maintain discipline in the Irish house and ensure that the Irish friars were free from French interference.
Punch's academic work in France also brought him and Friar John Colgan of Louvain into conflict with the English Franciscan Angelus Mason over the nationality of John Duns Scotus. In his Certamen seraphicum provinciae Angliae (1649) Mason had claimed Scotus as an Englishman. Colgan rebutted this with his Tractatus de Ioannis Scoti (1655) but died before he could answer Mason's response, the Apologia pro Scoto Anglo (1656). Punch assumed Colgan's place in the debate in 1660 and published Scotus Hiberniae restitutus, replying to Mason and reasserting Scotus's Irish origins. This work was republished (1661) at the beginning of the first volume of his magnum opus, the Commentarii theologici, an enormous elucidation (four tomes in six folio volumes) of Scotus's commentary on the sentences of Peter Lombard (qv).
Praised by Wadding for his intellectual acumen and capacity for communication, Punch was appointed a lector jubilatus, the highest academic honour afforded by the Franciscan order. His latter years and the date, place, and circumstances of his death are obscure: authorities are almost equally divided between c.1660–62 and 1672–3. There is a fresco of Punch painted in 1672 by Friar Emanuele da Como in the aula maxima of St Isidore's College, Rome.