Dean of St. Paul's, major figure in early Tudor humanism; b. London, 1467?; d. Sept. 16, 1519. He was the son of Sir Henry Colet, enormously wealthy and twice Lord Mayor of London; he was the only one of 11 sons and as many daughters to survive childhood. Educated probably at St. Anthony's School, London, and Magdalen College, Oxford, he may have begun Greek with Grocyn and linacre, who had just returned from their Italian studies. Doubtless stimulated by their accounts of Italian humanism, Colet went to Italy in 1493 and there studied Canon and civil law, Greek, philosophy, and Sacred Scriptures. He did not meet ficino but did correspond with him (Jayne), and the work of Ficino, pico della mirandola, and other Italian neoplatonists was a strong influence on his own thought. He apparently returned to Oxford about 1496 and resumed his studies for the degree of doctor of divinity (which he probably received in 1504); between 1496 and 1499 he was ordained, carried further his philosophical and scriptural studies, and wrote commentaries. In 1499 he met erasmus, and the two greatly influenced each other. In 1509 he became dean of st. paul's, London.
Soon after his return from Italy he lectured on the Epistles of St. Paul at Oxford; the lectures on 1 Corinthians made a very strong impact because of their new stress on Paul and their concern with Paul's writings in the context of early Christianity. Colet's interest, then, was moral and historical, not allegorical or speculative. In these lectures, fortunately extant, "Paul and Colet together have much to say about fifteenth-century evils" (Harbison), and here were "the roots of Colet's later famous sermons as Dean of St. Paul's castigating clerical abuses and advocating a Christian pacifism" (see preaching, i). Though he published very little (like others of his generation of humanists, such as Grocyn and Linacre), Colet communicated through his conversation and correspondence, and one can see the power of his influence upon friends like Erasmus and Thomas more, and perhaps also on tyndale, who is likely to have heard him at Oxford and in London. And, finally, his foundation of St. Paul's School the year before his death enabled him to build a living memorial of many of his educational ideals, a memorial that played a significant role in the development of Tudor education. About 1510 Colet wrote a Latin grammar—his accidence (Aeditio ) for the syntax by William Lily—and this work was frequently reprinted both separately and as part of what was popularly known as Lily's grammar. The later official textbook of Henry VIII, compiled after Lily's death, built upon not only Colet and Erasmus but also Melanchthon and others.
Bibliography: Works, ed. and tr. j. h. lupton, 5 v. (London 1867–76). f. seebohm, The Oxford Reformers … (3d ed. London 1887). j. h. lupton, A Life of John Colet (new ed. London 1909; repr. Hamden, CT 1961). d. erasmus, Opus epistolarum, ed. p. s. allen et al., 12 v. (Oxford 1906–58) 4:1211; The Epistles of Erasmus …, ed. and tr. F. M. NICHOLS, 3 v. (New York 1901–18; repr. 1962). p. a. duhamel, "The Oxford Lectures of John Colet," Journal of the History of Ideas 14 (1953) 493–510. e. h. harbison, The Christian Scholar in the Age of the Reformation (New York 1956). e. w. hunt, Dean Colet and His Theology (London 1956). v. j. flynn, "The Grammatical Writings of William Lily,?1468–?1523," Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 37 (1943) 85–113. For the full story of Lily's Latin grammar and that of Henry VIII see c. g. allen in The Library, 5th ser. 9(1954) 85–100; 14 (1959) 49–53. p. b. o'kelly, John Colet's Commentary on I Cor. (Doctoral diss. unpub. Harvard U. 1960). l. miles, John Colet and the Platonic Tradition (La Salle, IL 1961), largely superseded by jayne.c. s. meyer, "John Colet's Significance for the English Reformation," Concordia Theological Monthly 34 (1963) 410–418; John Colet Bibliog. (privately printed; Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO 1963). s. r. jayne, John Colet and Marsilio Ficino (Oxford 1963). a. b. emden, A Biographical Register of the Scholars of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500, 3 v. (Oxford 1957–59) 1:462–464. j. gleason, John Colet (Berkeley 1989). j. b. trapp Erasmus, Colet and More (London 1991).
[r. j. schoeck]
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."
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.
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. □
J. B. Trapp