Copyright
Joseph Hirst Lupton.

A life of John Colet, D. D., dean of St. Paul's and founder of St. Paul's school online

. (page 14 of 30)
Online LibraryJoseph Hirst LuptonA life of John Colet, D. D., dean of St. Paul's and founder of St. Paul's school → online text (page 14 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


* lb., p. 79. If the threat of excommunication had no terrors, the
ministers of the cathedral were to seize upon the merchandise presump-
tuously exposed for sale, and throw it out upon the pavement.

* lb., pp. 224-5, compared with p. 72.



DEANERY OF ST. PAULS. 1 35

fix and the image of the Virgin/ had either died out in his
time, or he did not consider it worth a prohibition ; at least
there is not, I think, any notice of the practice in his ordi-
nances. But while thus much is common to the old statutes
and the new, there is added, under the head of Virgiferi, a
concluding paragraph,^ which is Colet's own : —

" Furthermore," he continues, " since the married state is ofttimes
one full of business and disturbance, and since married men must
needs attend to their wives, as mistresses, and our vergers, distracted
by the anxieties of married life, neglect their duty in the Church, or
else perforce abandon it {since no man ca?i well serve two masters) ;
therefore it is decreed, &c. . . . that from henceforth none shall be
in any wise vergers in St. Paul's, save such as pass their lives in
celibacy without wives, and keep continent. . . . Moreover, let an
unmarried man be preferred to this office before a widower, other
things being equal ; for it is iitting that those who approach so near
to the altar of God, and are present at such great mysteries, should
be wholly chaste and undefiled."

It will be painful to many, though it will give satisfaction to
others, to read these words of Colet. But they are at any rate
in keeping with what the author of the " De Sacramentis
Ecclesiae" had written, and they were never belied by the
personal life of one who, in Erasmus's words, " So far as I
could gather from my intimate acquaintance and conversations
with him, kept the flower of chastity even unto death." That
such austere enactments were not accepted we are not sur-
prised to learn.

Time would fail us in attempting to analyse Dean Colet's
statutes at length. Two points only shall be further specified.
One refers to the vicars or deputies of the canons.^ After re-
citing that in former times they had been thirty in number —
one for each of the major canons — Colet goes on to lament
that both the number and the mode of living had been

^ " Registrum," p. 72.

- lb., p. 225 : " Prceterea, quia res uxoria," &c.

^ lb., p. 234, compared with pp. 67, 104, and other sections of the older
statutes on the same subject.



136 LIFE OF DEAN COLET.

changed. Now they had dwindled to six, "and those, too,
either married, or capable of being- so." The direction follows
that those who are appointed to the office shall, " above all
things, be such as desire to live well, to keep a good character,
to show an example of honest dealing, in St. Paul's." And
then it is added, that the vicars " are not to be proctors, or
attorneys, or executors of wills, or to undertake any other
office that may draw them away and estrange them from
divine service." Here, as in other ways, it was Colet's object
to bring back the officers of his cathedral to their proper
duties, and to keep them there. We can trace the same de-
sign, expressed in almost the same words, in his School
Statutes, in which he forbids his masters to " take office of
Sectorshipp (executorship) or proctorshipp, or any suych
besyneses whiche shall lettheyr dylygence and theyr necessary
labour in the Scole." ^

The other point to be noticed is the change in the qualifica-
tions to be required of the grammar master. Both in the old
statutes and in the new there is a section about the master of
grammar, as well as about the master of the singing school.
In both cases the appointment rests with the chancellor of the
cathedral. But while, under the old statute, no qualification
is required of the one so appointed, beyond being a Master of
Arts, and no duty is enjoined more arduous than that of
making out the bills of service, and keeping the children's
school-books,^ under the new, something far beyond this is
sought for. " The master of the grammar school," so Colet's
enactment runs ' : —

" Should be an upright and honourable man, and of much and
well-attested learning. Let him teach the boys, especially those be-
longing to the cathedral, grammar, and at the same time show them

^ For the offices in question, see Hale's " Precedents and Pleadings"
(1847), Introduction, p. xxxi. In the sense of a '' collector," the word
" Proctour" occurs several times in the Statutes of the Guild of Jesus. See
the " Registrum Statutorum," p. 445.

- " Registrum Statutorum," p. 23.

^ lb., p. 226.



DEANERY OF ST. PAUL'S. 1 3/

an example of good living. Let him take great heed that he cause no
offence to their tender minds by any pollution of word or deed. Nay
more, along with chaste literature, let him imbue them with holy
morals, and be to them a master, not of grammar only, but of
virtue."

What a light does this short statute throw on the founda-
tion of St. Paul's School. No date is attached to this revised
code, though the ExJiibita which follow are, as was said above,
dated 15 i8. But we cannot doubt that what Colet embodied
in this section had been present from the first to his mind. If
he could have obtained such teaching for the cathedral school,
and seen his earnest wishes carried out, there might indeed
have still been a famous St. Paul's School, but it would have
been the school of the Cathedral of St. Paul, left without a
rival so far as Colet was concerned. In this, as in other direc-
tions, his endeavours were thwarted. He had tried to restore
the discipline of his clergy by laying down equitable rules for
residence ; by shaming them, so far as burning words could
do, out of their worldly and covetous spirit ; by restricting the
pursuits in which their time and energies were squandered ;
and, finally, by a higher standard of training for the young.
He failed — if the failure is to be called his, and not theirs.
His statutes remained a dead letter, and a later dean could
fold down the leaves containing them, and declare that they
were no statutes. But some power may survive in them even
yet.

It was not, however, on the restraining force of statutes
that Colet placed his only, or even his chief, reliance for the
amendment of life and manners within St. Paul's. He knew,
for he had proved at Oxford, the power which lay in preach-
ing and expounding God's word to influence those about him
for good. And from the pulpit of St. Paul's a voice was now
heard before which the " still roar " of the ever-moving multi-
tude was hushed. " What was a novelty there," says Erasmus,
"he began preaching at every festival in his cathedral, over
and above the special sermons he had to deliver, now at court,
now in various other places." If it sounds strange to us to



138 LIFE OF DEAN COLET.

hear of preaching in the cathedral at every festival (including,
of course, Sundays as fcri<B majores) being a " novelty," we
must endeavour once more to shut out from view the cathe-
dral system as we now know it, and to replace the picture by
one of that which existed nearly four centuries ago. St. Paul's
was a church of secular canons. The succession of divine
offices at the stated hours of prayer would fill up a great por-
tion of the day. Even as late as 1598 prayers were said at
five o'clock in the morning in summer, and six o'clock in
winter.^ It was no part of the office of the dean, nor, indeed,
of any of the canons, as such, to preach. In the old statutes
there are many enactments in which the duties of the dean
are set forth. His place in the choir, in processions, in the
bishop's presence ; the part he is to take in celebrations ; his
authority over other members of the body ; the visits he is to
pay to the cathedral estates ; the formalities with which he is
to admit new members into the society — all these and many
other matters are minutely prescribed." But of any obligation
on his part to instruct the people by preaching from the pulpit
not a word is said.

To some extent the need of such instruction was recognized,
and had long been provided for. A divinity lectureship had
been founded from an early time, and attached to the office of
chancellor of the cathedral. Still more in the spirit of modern
ideas, an appointment is recorded to have been made, in 1281,
of a special preacher, to hold office from Michaelmas in that
year to the same period in the year following, with a prospect
of the appointment being continued. In the deanery of
Thomas de Ingaldesthorp (1277-1283), an ordinance was
drawn up by which the office of preacher w-as assigned to
Richard de Swinefield, archdeacon of London.^ The language
employed is worth attention : —

'* Considering," the ordinance runs, " among the other things per-
taining to the welfare of a Christian people, that both the doctrine of

^ See the " Registrum Statutorum," p. 272.

- lb., pp. 182-3. ■■' lb., p. 18S.



DEANERY OF ST. PAUL'S. 1 39

Holy Writ for the clergy, and the food of God's Word for all in
common, will be in the highest degree needful ; and furthermore
weighing thoroughly with keen observation that we have been in
diminished esteem both with the clergy and the people of the city,
and that the affection, and liberality, and resorting of the same
citizens towards our church aforesaid and towards us have long been
growing cold apace, by reason that we have not had from among our-
selves a suitable teacher and preacher in Holy Writ, but have been
constrained to beg the help of others in these matters, with loss of
our own honour and repute : we have therefore, after prudent deli-
beration, unanimously granted leave to our venerable brother, Master
Richard de Swinefeld, archdeacon of London, an approved
theologian and gracious preacher, for a full year from this feast of
St. Michael, 1281, to preside in person in our divinity schools,^ at
suitable times, and to preach before us when occasion shall serve."

In consideration of this duty, the document goes on to say,
the preacher was to be released for the time from attendance
at some of the canonical hours.

How long this well-intentioned plan was carried out, I am
not aware. But certainly, when Colet was appointed to the
deanery, there was no systematic preaching, or lecturing in
divinity, either to the people at large, or to the cathedral
clergy themselves. One little incident brings this fact promi-
nently forward. During Colet's tenure of office, a present-
ment was made to the bishop, Fitz-James, by " certain
ministers of the aforesaid St. Paul's, men of pious and devout
minds," that whereas in former times a divinity lecture had
been founded in the cathedral, and endowed with the vicarage
of Ealing, to benefit the ministering clergy of St. Paul's, and

^ " Ut . . . in theologia . . . regat actualiter in scolis nostris." The
expression is an academic one. Rcgcre, like the French rcgcntcr, meant
originally to preside, or moderate, at a scholastic discussion, and then,
more generally, to be a professor, or teach. See Littre, under the word
regentcr. Considering what members would form the divinity school of
St. Paul's, it might naturally be intended that they should follow to some
degree the practice of a divinity school at the University. As a professor
of theology, the one appointed to this office is called a " doctor in sacra
pagina," in respect of his instructions to the clergy ; and this " doctrina
sacrae paging " is the " doctrine of Holy Writ " mentioned above.



I40 LIFE OF DEAN COLET.

all the clerks and others residing in London, or daily flocking
to it ; yet now, of late years, this office had been left neglected,
so that, if perchance such lectures had been delivered for a
few days in one year, they would then be abandoned for
several years together, and were, in fact, so left in abeyance
at the present time/

It is easy to guess whose hand was at work in thus getting
the conservative bishop to stir in the matter. But the curious
feature in it was the plea put forth as an apology by the
chancellor of the cathedral, Dr. William Lichfield, who was
by his office the divinity lecturer in question. It was that,
by the statute, he was required to lecture continue, and that
as no human being could so lecture, he had therefore given up
the task altogether." We can understand the feelings with
which this worthy man, appointed to a prebend just twenty
years before Colet, and now therefore well on in life, would
regard such a recall to his duties. In the end a compromise
was effected, that the lecture should be delivered three times
a week, with exemptions for saints' days. But we cannot
wonder if, before long, Colet was " out " with his chapter.'

It is true that about the time of Colet's appointment to the
deanery a course of divinity lectures of a certain kind had
been delivered in St. Paul's. Grocyn had lectured there,
about 1503, on the "Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of Dionysius,"
and had had a large audience.^ If Colet were not appointed

^ See the "Registrum Statutorum," pp. 4i3-i5,where Bishop Fitz-James's
ordinance, founded on this complaint, is printed at full. It does not
appear to be dated.

- "Comperimus quod propter verbum coutiyiuc in ordinacione et funda-
cione ipsius lecturje insertum, Cancellarius . . . illud onus sufferre et
sustinere omisit, nimis grave et summe durum reputans," &c. — /<J., p.413.

^ That these divinity lectures were not looked on as very attractive even
in 1 598, we have evidence from the answers returned at the first visitation
of Bishop Bancroft, where it is stated that " but few of the petty canons
do come to the divinity lecture in term time . . . and the vicars are
seldom there. We do not know whether we are by statute bound to be
there."— /^., p. 273.

See the " Declarationes "' of Erasmus (1532^ p. 264. Erasmus says,
" ante triginta annos." which, if correct, would tix the date as above.



DEANERY OF ST. PAUL S. 14I

till 1504, this would, strictly speaking, have been in the time
of his predecessor, Sherborne. But when we think who the
lecturer was, Colet's friend at Oxford, and what the subject
was — a favourite one with him — it is difficult to avoid the
conclusion that the proceeding was in some way connected
with Colet. During part of 1503 and 1504, as was said
before, Sherborne was absent on an embassy to Rome, and it
is possible that Colet may have been called upon to fulfil
some of the duties of an office likely soon to be vacated
before his actual appointment.^ However this may be, it was
doubtless to the same motive, that of supplying the deficien-
cies of such men as Dr. Lichfield, that we may assign the
encouragement Colet gave to the Carmelite, John Sowle, who
died in 1508, and was buried in the convent of the White
Friars. As it is recorded that he was " a great esteemer of
St. Paul," leaving behind him a number of sermons on the
Apostle's writings, and was, moreover, very intimate with
Colet, it is probable, though not actually so stated, that his
preaching was heard in St. Paul's,^ That of another learned
divine, John Major, or Mayor, certainly was so ; and so far
were his sermons from being thought a weariness, as in the
later days of Bishop Bancroft, that he " used to expound
St. Paul's Epistles twice a day, in the midst of a large circle of
learned clergy, by whom his coming was eagerly looked for." ^
It is to be added, that these lectures of Mayor's were gratui-
tous, the expense of them being borne by Colet.

But all such supplementary efforts as these were of small
account compared with what was done by the dean himself.
Twenty years before he had been preparing himself for the

' Something of this kind seems to be implied in the epitaph on Colet's
monmiient, where it is stated that he "administravit 16 [annos]." As he
died in 15 19, this would be an obvious error, if he had no connection with
the cathedral till 1505. See " Oxford Reformers," p. 138, n.

"- See Bale, quoted in Knight's " Life," p. 62, n. ; and Wood's " Athense,"
i., p. 12.

^ Bernard Andreas, " Historia Henrici Septimi," ed. by Gairdner, 1858,
p. 105. This was in 1508, one of the years of the sweating sickness,
when prayers were publicly offered up in St. Paul's to avert the scourge.



142 LIFE OF DEAN COLET.

preacher's work. Even during his Italian tour, he had kept
that object steadily in view. "The English nation has poets,"
wrote Erasmus, " who have done among their own country-
men what Dante and Petrarch have done in Italy. And by
the study of their writings he perfected his style, preparing
himself, even at this date, for preaching the Gospel." At a
time when English prose could hardly be said to have any
existence, the future author of the " Life of Edward V." being
yet but a boy, Colet had taken the best materials that were
at hand for forming a nervous and forcible English style. In
the long-drawn moralities of Gower, and, far more, in the
pithy common sense and shrewd observation of Chaucer, he
would find a store of practical wisdom, and catch the tone in
which to speak to the hearts of the people. If he were at
Florence, as all probability tends to make us conclude that he
was, he could not have failed to hear Savonarola, and to
catch something of his fervour, without his fanaticism. How
suddenly his spirit would kindle into animation, when any
topic that interested him was started, Erasmus has told us.
His mien and stature were dignified and commanding, such
as would befit the sacred orator.^ All these qualifications
would help to make his words in the pulpit words of power.
But, above all, he was intensely in earnest. What Erasmus
relates of Vitrier, the Franciscan of St. Omer, whose portrait
he makes the companion one to that of Colet, would be
equally true of the latter. " I once asked him," says Erasmus
of Vitrier, " what his way of mental preparation was, before
going up into the pulpit. He answered, that it was his
custom to take up St. Paul, and to spend the time reading
him, till he felt his heart grow warm. He would continue
thus engaged, with the addition of fervent prayer to God, till
warned that it was time for him to begin." No otherwise,
we may be sure, would it be with Colet. In one respect,

' In Miss Yonge's story, " The Armourer's Prentices," justice is done to
the power of Colet's preaching, but the authoress misinterprets the
"corpus elegans et procerum"of Erasmus's description when she calls
him " a small, pale old man."



DEANERY OF ST. PAUL'S. I43

indeed, he changed, as time went on, and thought less than
before of his first great subject of study, the Epistles of
St. Paul. But it was not that he prized them less in them-
selves ; he had only learned to prize something else still
more. " He set a very high value," says Erasmus, "on the
Apostolic Epistles ; but he had such a reverence for the won-
derful majesty of Christ, that the writings of the Apostles
seemed to grow poor by the side of it." ^ The change, if it
was one, lay in advancing from the disciple to the Master.
Hence, if he preached Paul at Oxford, he preached Christ in
London, though truly he preached Christ in both. And in
doing so, says his biographer, in the account so often quoted,"
" he would not take isolated texts from the Gospels or Apos-
tolic Epistles, but would start with some connected subject,
and pursue it right to the end in a course of sermons ; for
example, St. Matthew's Gospel, the Creed, or the Lord's
Prayer." This was the point caught by his friend Lily, when
he penned his epitaph : —

" Qui toties magno resonabat pectore Christum,
Doctor et interpres fidus evangelii."

And in the next couplet he gives what was a powerful cause —
perhaps the most powerful cause — of his influence, the eloquent
example of a blameless life : —

" Qui mores hominum multum sermone diserto
Formarat, vitas sed probitate magis."

He who had gone even beyond St. Bernard in saying that " a
bad life was the worst heresy," ^ did not give the lie by his
own conduct to his words ; so that, as a writer in the next
century expressed it, " this great Deane of St, Paul's taught
and lived like St. Paul." *

^ " Lives of Vitrier and Colet," p. 27- ' H'-i P- 25.

^ See the passage from St. Bernard, quoted by Waterland, with his
criticism on Colet's use of it, in his "Works" (Oxford, 1843), iii-i P-
686.

'' Donald Lupton, " History of the Moderne Protestant Divines," 1637,
p. 209.



144 LIFE OF DEAN COLET.

And so we are not surprised that Colet's sermons should at
once become felt to be a power in London, or that " he used
to have a crowded congregation, including most of the leading
men both of the city and the court."

Quite incidentally, we have glimpses of poor Lollards, or
persons otherwise suspected of heresy, frequenting his preach-
ing. One John Butler, giving evidence in a trial for heresy in
Bishop Longland's diocese of Lincoln, " detects " one Thomas
Geffrey, for that he "caused this John Butler divers Sundays
to go to London to hear Dr. Colet." ' Another accused per-
son, John Lambert, in his answer to the bishop's articles in
1538, declares how, in the council spoken of in the Acts (v.
34), " among a shrewd multitude of them gathered together
did arise a certain man called Gamaliel — a pitiful thing,
verily, to see but one good man in such a convocation or coun-
cil of priests, that should be the lights of virtue to all the
people — which Gamaliel was a doctor of the law, and had in
good repute among the people ; much like he was, as seemed
to me, to Dr. Colet, sometime Dean of Paul's in London,
while he lived." "

But Colet had other hearers very different from these.
Among them was the rising lawyer, Thomas More, then
about six and twenty. There is extant a letter of his to
Colet, written apparently in 1504, the year before his mar-
riage, which sets in an interesting light the relation between

'■ Foxe's "Acts and Monuments" (Townsend's edition), vol. iv., p.
230.

^ Id., vol. v., p. 217. It may seem strange, after this, to find in another
passage of the same wrork (vol. v., p. 648), under the head of " Persecutors
and Judges," the name of Dr. John Collet, Dean of Paul's, along with those
of Archbishop Warham, Tonstall, Sylvestre, Wells, and others. The fact
should in any case not be ignored, as stress was laid upon it by the late
Dr. Robert Vaughan, in his "Revolutions in English History," vol. ii.,
p. 107, n. The truth may probably be, that Colet was placed on the com-
mission by reason of his official position, just as, in 1512, he and the
Bishop of London were commissioned by Henry VIII. to examine, one or
other of them, with the assistance of four doctors of physic, the qualifica-
tions of those who wished to practise medicine in London. We are not
to infer that he took any active part in the work.



DEANERY OF ST. PAUL'S. I45

him and the dean at this eventful period of his Hfe.' As
More was one day walking about the law courts, he met
Colet's servant ; and, learning from him that his master, who
was away in the country," was not expected home for some
time, he wrote a letter for the man to take back. In this,
after some slightly rhetorical description of his loneliness at
being so long without his spiritual guide and teacher, he goes
on to compare the city with the country, and to say that he
can hardly wonder at Colet's absence : —

"Even the very houses somehow intercept a great part of the daylight,
and shut out the open view of the sky. It is not the horizon, but the
line of roofs, that bounds the expanse above. And so I feel the
more indulgence for you, if you are not yet tired of the country. For
there you see simple-minded folk, unversed in the wiles of the town.
Wherever you turn your eyes, you are charmed by the smiling aspect
of the fields, and refreshed by the pleasant coolness of the air, and
delighted by the very sight of the sky. You see nothing there but
the bounteous gifts of nature and traces of holy innocence. Still, I
would not have you so captivated by these delights, as to be hindered
from flying back to us as soon as you can. For, granting that you
dislike the discomforts of the city, yet the country at Stepney (about
which you are bound to be no less careful) will afford you no less
advantages than that where you are now residing. And from there
you can now and then turn aside into the city, where you have a
great field for usefulness, as into an inn. For since people in the
country are either mostly innocent by nature, or at any rate not
ensnared in such great crimes, any physician may serve their turn.



Online LibraryJoseph Hirst LuptonA life of John Colet, D. D., dean of St. Paul's and founder of St. Paul's school → online text (page 14 of 30)