Thomas Penketh O.S.A. (also called Penker or Penkyer), born in Warrington, was the closest to an internationally celebrated scholar that the University of Cambridge had produced up to the end of the fifteenth century.
A indisputable distinction for Thomas Penketh was that of being the only Augustinian named in a play by William Shakespeare.
Born at Penketh, Lancashire, like numerous noblemen in the area over many years, he joined the Augustinian Priory at Warrington, and was sent to Austin Friars in Oxford for his further theological education and priestly formation.
For reasons unknown, he then transferred to the Austin Friars at the University of Cambridge to obtain his Mastership (now called a doctorate) in Theology in 1468-69.
In 1474 he won a public chair of theology at Padua, which then was the most famous university in Christendom. At Padua he lectured on metaphysics and edited some of the writings of John Duns Scotus (copies of which books still exist).
At the request of his students at Padua, Penketh prepared for the press a corrected copy of the Quodlibeta of Duns Scotus. His writings printed in Padua are included among the earliest specimens of printing in Italy. One such volume, printed abroad and handsomely bound, is to be found today in the Warrington Museum, Cheshire, England.
At Padua one of his pupils was Mariano da Genazzano O.S.A. (1450 - 1498). who later was a Renaissance figure at the Augustinian priory of Santo Spirito in Florence. Mariano became famous (or infamous in the eyes of some people) for becoming a very public opponent in Florence of Girolamo Savonarola O.P. (1452 – 1498).
Penketh returned to England in 1477, and assumed the Chair of Theology at Oxford.
Soon after that date, John Lettou, a printer in
London, produced two small books edited by Thomas Penketh: Questiones Antonii Andreae super duodecim libros metaphisice and Expositiones super Psalterium. Thomas had returned to Oxford in 1477, where he also taught theology, and was probably in Oxford when these books were being printed in
John Leland, writing during the era of Henry VIII, stated about Penketh’s scholastic attainments: "He was of such ability in the sharpness of disputation that scarce anyone equalled him. From his youth he was a great admirer of Scotus. So closely did he form himself after the pattern of the Doctor Subtilis (i.e., Scotus) that his biographer says 'one egg could not be more like to another or milk to milk.' "
Penketh was Provincial of the English Province of the Order of Saint Augustine (Austin Friars) again in 1480-1487.
This second term of Provincial office was stormy because he let himself be involved in the politics of the ambitious king of the day. In 1484 he was invited to take part in the series of prestigious Easter Week sermons in London.
These sermons were held each year at a number of churches such as St Paul’s Cathedral and St Mary’s Hospital. They were attended by the Mayor of London (Sir Edmund Shaw), the aldermen and all leading citizens, and drew large crowds.
Penketh preached at St Mary’s Hospital, Bishopsgate, and caused controversy by preaching in support of the claim of Richard III for the English throne. Penketh failed to complete the sermon because of a throat ailment.
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