John Colenso bigraphy, stories - Religion

John Colenso : biography

24 January 1814 - 20 June 1883

John William Colenso (1814–1883), first Anglican bishop of Natal, mathematician, theologian, Biblical scholar and social activist.

Personal life

Colenso married Sarah Frances Bunyon in 1846, and they had five children, Harriet Emily, Frances Ellen, Robert John, Francis "Frank" Ernest, and Agnes.


Colenso's early theological thinking was heavily influenced by Frederick Maurice to whom he was introduced by his wife and by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

In 1846 he became rector of Forncett St Mary, Norfolk, and in 1853 he was recruited by the Bishop of Cape Town, Robert Gray, to be the first Bishop of Natal.. Josephine M. Guy. Routledge, 1998. ISBN 0-415-18555-6. p. 299–

Life in Africa

Colenso was a significant figure in the history of the published word in nineteenth century South Africa. Using the printing press he brought to his missionary station at Ekukhanyeni in Natal, and with William Ngidi he published the first Zulu Grammar and English/Zulu dictionary. His 1859 journey across Zululand to visit Mpande (the then Zulu King) and meet with Cetshwayo (Mpande's son and the Zulu King at the time of the Zulu War) was recorded in his book First Steps of the Zulu Mission. The same journey was also described in the first book written by native South Africans in Zulu – Three Native Accounts (with accounts written by Magema Fuze, Ndiyane and William Ngidi). He also translated the New Testament and other portions of Scripture into Zulu.

John William Colenso, by [[Carlo Pellegrini, 1874.]]

Religious debate

Through the influence of his talented and well-educated wife, Colenso became one of only a handful of theologians to embrace Frederick Maurice, who was raised a Unitarian but joined the Anglican church to help it "purify and elevate the mind of the nation".. Donald R. Morris. Da Capo Press, 1998. ISBN 0-306-80866-8. p.182

Before his missionary career Colenso's volume of sermons dedicated to Frederick Maurice signalled the critical approach he would later apply to biblical interpretation and the baleful impact on native Africans of colonial expansion in southern Africa.

Colenso first courted controversy with the publication in 1855 of his Remarks on the Proper Treatment of Polygamy; one of the most cogent Christian-based arguments for tolerance of polygamy.Indigenous responses to western Christianity. Steven Kaplan. NYU Press, 1995 ISBN 0-8147-4649-7 p. 12–

Colenso's experiences in Natal informed his development as a religious thinker. In his commentary upon Paul's Epistle to the Romans (1861) he countered the doctrine of eternal punishment and the contention that Holy Communion was a precondition to salvation. Colenso, as a missionary, would not preach that the ancestors of newly Christianised Africans were condemned to eternal damnation. The thought provoking questions put to him by students at his missionary station encouraged him to re-examine the contents of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua and question whether certain sections of these books should be understood as literally or historically accurate. His conclusions, positive and negative, were published in a series of treatises on the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, over a period of time from 1862 to 1879. The publication of these volumes created a scandal in England and were the cause of a number of anguished and patronising counter-blasts from those (clergy and laity alike) who refused to countenance the possibility of biblical fallibility. Colenso's work attracted the notice of biblical scholars on the continent such as Abraham Kuenen and played an important contribution in the development of biblical scholarship.. Timothy Larsen. Baylor University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-918954-93-2. pp. 59–77.

Colenso's biblical criticism and his high-minded views about the treatment of African natives created a frenzy of alarm and opposition from the High Church party in South Africa and in England. As controversy raged in England, the South African bishops headed by Bishop Gray pronounced Colenso's deposition in December 1863. Colenso, who had refused to appear before this tribunal otherwise than by sending a proxy protest (delivered by his friend Wilhelm Bleek), appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. The Privy Council eventually decided that the Bishop of Cape Town had no coercive jurisdiction and no authority to interfere with the Bishop of Natal. In view of this finding of ultra vires there was no opinion given upon the allegations of heresy made against Colenso. The first Lambeth Conference was convened in 1867 to address concerns raised by the Privy Council's decision in favour of Colenso.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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