Universities showed a falling off in their scholars. It is remarked that in 1547 and 1550 not a single degree was taken at Oxford. In 1545 Cambridge petitioned the Crown for fresh privileges in apprehension of the total decay of learning. Latimer in Edward YTs time, and Edgeworth under Mary, contrast this lamentable change with former flourishing years. Under Henry VIII the numbers fell off; the spirit of independence was broken; the Universities lay at the King's mercy. True, the Reformation had allied itself with Humanism; but these two great movements were not destined to follow the same path. Erasmus had complained of the harm which Luther was inflicting on letters; Bembo was all astonishment at the piety of Melanchthon. Neither the literary nor the scientific spirit was in its essence Protestant.
Colet (1466-1519), who strikes us as entirely English, downright, straightforward, and impatient of scholastic subtleties and pagan license, had come home from Italy in 1498 with a contempt for its ungodly refinements. He lectured without stipend in Oxford on the Epistles of St Paul, after a new method which attracted many, but was a stone of offence to some of the elders. Colet preached a return to primitive discipline; he preferred the Fathers before their commentators; and he despised much of the current usage as tending to overlay the Gospel with human inventions. In 1504 Henry VII named him Dean of St Paul's. Here he endowed the public school of which he made William Lilly headmaster; its governors were to be married citizens, not monks or clerics. It furnished a pattern to other foundations, including the grammar-schools of Edward VI and Elizabeth, but was much decried by teachers of the ancient stamp. In Archbishop Warham Colet, as afterwards Erasmus, found an unfailing friend and benefactor. By him the Dean was enabled to address the Convocation of Canterbury, in 1512. Colet inveighed against the worldliness of bishops, the accumulation of benefices, the evils of non-residence. He attacked no dogma. But he was at once accused before the Primate as disparaging celibacy and as being himself a heretic. Warham dismissed the charges. If we consider who Colet's friends were the accusations against him seem scarcely probable. He had been for a number of years More's spiritual director. He strongly approved of Erasmus when he brought out his Greek New Testament. But he praised quite as strongly Melton's jExhortation to Young Men entering- on Orders, printed by Wynkin de Worde, in which it is laid down that a priest should say his Hours and his Mass every day, as well as meditate on the writings of the Fathers and read the Scriptures. It was not dogma, but the superfluous contendings of "neoteric divines" which provoked the indignation of those moderate reformers with whom Colet thought and acted. As a patristic student he is termed by Erasmus "the assertor and champion of the old theology,"—a phrase which defines his position, but which does not exhibit him as favouring the Reformation.