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John Colet

John Colet

The English theologian and moral reformer John Colet (ca. 1446-1519) founded St. Paul's School and influenced the humanist Erasmus.

The father of John Colet was Sir Henry Colet, twice mayor of London. He was a wealthy man and the father of 22 children, none of whom survived to maturity except John. After early schooling in London, John went to Oxford, where he spent some 20 years as a scholar and lecturer, eventually receiving a doctorate in divinity about 1504.

After earning a master of arts degree, in 1493 Colet went to Italy and France for 3 years, visiting both Rome and Paris. On Colet's return to Oxford, Erasmus reports: "He publicly and gratuitously expounded all St. Paul's epistles. It was at Oxford that my acquaintance with him began." Moreover, wrote Erasmus, Colet's "opinions differed widely from those commonly received. When I was once praising Aquinas to him as a writer not to be despised among the moderns, since he appeared to me to have studied both the Scriptures and the early Fathers, and had also a certain unction in his writings, he checked himself more than once from replying and did not betray his dislike."

In contrast to the elaborate scriptural exegesis then prevalent, Colet preferred to pay careful attention to the context of St. Paul's letters. Although Colet stressed the importance of the literal meaning of the books of the Bible, he was not a fundamentalist.

Colet received priestly orders in 1498 and left Oxford 6 years later to become dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. In 1510 he founded St. Paul's School for boys. The essential moral earnestness that suffused all of Colet's teaching and writing was plainly evident in the great trouble he took over the founding of this establishment, which is still one of the great schools of England. As he said in the statutes he devised for it, "My intent is by this school specially to increase knowledge and worshiping of God and our Lord Jesus Christ and good Christian life and manners in the children."

At his death Colet left one published work, his convocation sermon of 1512. A fierce attack on the lives of the clergy, this sermon declared that there "is no need that new laws and constitutions be made, but that those that are made already be kept."

Further Reading

The standard biography of Colet is J. H. Lupton, A Life of John Colet (1887; 2d ed. 1961). Among numerous modern studies the most important are Ernest W. Hunt, Dean Colet and His Theology (1956), and Sears R. Jayne, John Colet and Marsilio Ficino (1963); both works have excellent bibliographies.

Additional Sources

Gleason, John B., John Colet, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Lupton, Joseph Hirst, A life of John Colet, D.D., dean of St. Paul's, and founder of St. Paul's School, New York, B. Franklin 1974. □

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Colet, John

Colet, John (1467–1519). Colet, cleric and educator, was born in London as the eldest child of Sir Henry Colet, mercer and twice mayor of the city, and his wife Christian Knyvet. After schooling in London, he probably attended Cambridge University before travelling to Paris and Orléans, and to Italy. He was in Rome in 1493, and perhaps in Florence: certainly he read intensively the Florentine Platonists Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. About 1496 Colet began to teach in Oxford, gaining a reputation for his exposition of the meaning and application to life of the Pauline Epistles as well as studying the Neoplatonist Pseudo-Dionysius and the Genesis account of creation. Colet's piety and eloquence impressed Erasmus from their first meeting in 1499; he was later Erasmus' patron and helper. As dean of St Paul's from 1505 to his death of the sweating sickness in 1519, Colet refounded and endowed St Paul's School (1509). Erasmus advised him on its curriculum and in his On the Basis of Study (1511) characterized its Christian-humanist orientation; he also wrote for it pious, grammatical, and rhetorical handbooks. Colet's austerity and high-mindedness led him into conflict with his cathedral clergy. A forthright disputant, and powerful preacher to court and convocation, he was also from 1516—before Thomas More—a member of the king's council. His works remained in manuscript almost completely until they were edited in the 19th cent.

J. B. Trapp

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"Colet, John." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Colet, John

John Colet (kŏ´lĬt), 1467?–1519, English humanist and theologian. While studying on the Continent (1493–96), Colet became interested in classical scholarship and in theories of education. After his residency at Oxford as a lecturer, in 1505 he became dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London. He planned the new St. Paul's School (1509) and endowed it from his private fortune. With William Lily, the school's first headmaster, and Erasmus, he collaborated on a Latin grammar that was later called the Eton grammar and used by generations of schoolboys. Colet did not, himself, break with the Roman Church, but his ideas on church reform were influential later. Most of his writings were unpublished until the late 19th cent.

See biography by J. H. Lupton (2d ed. 1961); F. Seebohm, The Oxford Reformers (1913, repr. 1971).

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"Colet, John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 12 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Colet, John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/colet-john