Died At Age: 52
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Born in: London
Famous as: Renaissance Humanist
Died on: September 10, 1519
place of death: London
City: London, England
Founder/Co-Founder: St Paul's School, London
education: Magdalen College, Oxford, University of Oxford
Who was John Colet?
John Colet was an English priest, theologian, scholar and an educational pioneer. He is believed to be a major force in the promotion of Renaissance humanism and culture in England in the late 15th and early 16th century. His father, Sir Henry Colet, was a merchant and had been the Lord Mayor of London twice (1486 and 1495). Sir Henry had 21 other children in addition to John but none of them grew up to see adulthood. John attended St. Anthony’s School before graduating with a M.A. degree from Magdalen College, Oxford. After Oxford he studied civil and canon law in France and Italy for three years before returning to England where he was ordained a deacon and then a priest. Oxford University appointed him as a lecturer and Colet mainly lectured on the epistles of St. Paul. He despised the old scholastic method of interpretation and implementation, as it failed to generate the concept of humanism in the readers, and preferred to pay careful attention to the context of St. Paul’s letters. He left Oxford to become the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and nearly a decade later founded the St. Paul’s School with the money he had inherited. The school was built in London and is one of the leading schools in the country even today
Childhood & Early Life
John Colet was born in London in 1467 as the eldest son of Sir Henry Colet. His father was a wealthy merchant and had been the Lord Mayor of London twice (1486 and 1495). John had 21 siblings but none survived till maturity.
After receiving his schooling from St. Anthony’s School he went on to graduate from Magdalen College, Oxford with a M.A. in 1490.
In 1493, he travelled to France and Italy to study canon and civil law, patristics and the rudiments of Greek for three years.
While living abroad he made acquaintances with Budaeus (Guillaume Budé) and Erasmus, and developed a particular interest in the teachings of Savonarola. His brief trip to Rome furthered his cultural and spiritual experiences.
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John Colet earned many preferments due to his family’s influence. He was made the non-residential rector of Dennington and Suffolk, rector of Thurning, Hunts and the vicar of St. Dunstan’s and Stepney.
He was ordained as a deacon in 1497 and as a priest a year later. In 1498, he joined Oxford as a lecturer and mainly spoke on the epistles of Saint Paul.
As a lecturer he shunned the existing way of reading and implementation of the text mentioned in the epistles. He believed the text should be read only after understanding the personality of Saint Paul.
He invited Desiderius Erasmus, the brilliant humanist of the northern Renaissance, to Oxford. Erasmus was impressed by Colet’s teaching style (in tandem with the concept of Renaissance humanism) and they developed a strong friendship.
With further lectures on Bible-teachings he gained more influence and respect among the known prime humanists of those times including Sir Thomas More and Thomas Linacre.
He was already the prebendary of York (1494) and the canon of St. Martin le Grand, London, and the Church elevated him to prebendary of Salisbury (1502) and the prebendary of St. Paul’s Cathedral (1505).
He earned his doctorate in divinity in 1504 and in 1505 became the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. He held the dean’s office till 1519 and in this time-period gave lectures on the Bible’s teachings. The (humanistic) reformation of the Church was the fruit of his preaching, administration and education.
In 1508, he inherited a substantial fortune and founded the St. Paul’s School in 1509 which later became the first English school to teach Greek. The textbooks for the school were written by Erasmus and the management of the school and its revenues were assigned to the Mercers' Company.
He became the rector of the guild of Jesus at St. Paul’s Cathedral and even then continued his open criticism of the Church’s teachings. People complained to William Warham (then Archbishop of Canterbury) that Colet’s religious opinions were heretical but the Archbishop took no legal action against him.
John Colet issued multiple sermons to King Henry VIII against the French War, but the king didn’t take him into custody or put him through a trial. Rather, he made him his chaplain some time later.
In 1512, he delivered his most famous and important sermon at the starting of the convocation of the clergy of Canterbury province at the London Cathedral. In his speech he implored the clergymen to discuss about the reformation of the Church and not to create new laws (of the Church) but to follow the older ones with loyalty.
He condemned the state’s intent to wage a war against France and stated that the same intent and power should be used to better the lives of oneself and the community which would bring them closer to Jesus Christ.
John Colet is time and again remembered for the establishment of St. Paul’s School in 1509, on a 43 acre (largest school on England at its foundation) plot situated by the River Thames with the money he had inherited. It was the first English school that taught Greek and the pupils didn’t have to pay any fees, thus depicting the humanist nature of Colet.
Personal Life & Legacy
John Colet died of sweating sickness on 10 September 1519. A monument was erected in his honor on the south aisle of the choir at the cathedral church of Saint Paul, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
The Colet Gardens, a road in the London suburb of Hammersmith, and the John Colet School in Wendover, Buckinghamshire are named in his memory.