Jesuit controversialist and spiritual writer; b. Néronde (Loire), France, March 7, 1564; d. Paris, March 19, 1626. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1583 at the novitiate of Arona, near Milan. He followed the course of philosophy and theology at Milan and then at Rome, where he studied under Gabriel vÁzquez and Juan azor and enjoyed the spiritual direction of St. Robert Bellarmine. He completed his theology at Lyons and began his career as a preacher and controversialist. He was particularly occupied with the Huguenots of southern France and gained a considerable reputation for his defense of the Church and of the Jesuit position. In 1603 he was influential in determining the royal policy of reestablishing the Society of Jesus within France, and in 1608 he became confessor to Henry IV and to the future Louis XIII. His influence at court occasioned many and fierce attacks from the Calvinists. After the assassination of Henry IV, Coton had to defend himself and his order from charges of condoning regicide. Accusations and intrigue finally forced him to leave the court in 1617. He became rector of the college at Bordeaux and then provincial of the province of Aquitaine in 1622 and of the province of Paris in 1624.
Coton wrote many controversial works and apologetic tracts. His antagonists were so strong and numerous that they came to be called anti-Cotonists. Some of Coton's writings are Institution catholique (2 v. Paris 1610), Lettre déclaratoire de la doctrine des Pères Jésuites (Paris 1610), and Responce apologétique à l'Anticoton (Paris 1611).
Coton was also the friend of many spiritual leaders of his time, and he contributed significantly to the spiritual renaissance of the 17th century. His relationship with Pierre de bÉrulle was particularly close. Coton's spirituality somewhat resembled that of St. Francis de Sales, and his Intérieure occupation d'une âme dévote (Paris 1608) seems to anticipate De Sales' Introduction à la vie dévote. Among Coton's other spiritual writings are Méditations sur la vie de Notre Sauveur Jésus Christ (Paris 1614) and Sermons…en forme de méditations (Paris 1617). His works went through numerous editions and were translated into various languages.
Bibliography: j. m. prat, Recherches historiques et critiques sur la Compagnie de Jésus en France du temps du P. Coton, 1564–1626, 5 v. (Lyons 1876–78). h. bremond, Histiore littéraire du sentiment réligieux en France despuis la fin des guerres de religion jusqu'à nos jours, 12 v. (Paris 1911–36). c. sommervogel et al., Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, 11 v. (Brussels-Paris 1890–1932 v. 12, supplement 1960). a pottier and m. j. picar, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932– ). y. de la briÈre, in Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951– ). g. wagner, in Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet (Paris 1947– ).
[j. c. willke]