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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 90. The Universities.


Literature: Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis, ed. by H. Denifle, O. P. and A. Chatelain, adjunct librarian of the Sorbonne, 4 vols. Paris, 1889–1897. This magnificent work gives the documents bearing on the origin, organization, customs, and rules of the University of Paris from 1200–1452; and forms one of the most valuable recent contributions to the study of the Middle Ages.—Auctarium Chartularii Univ. Paris., ed. by Denifle and Chatelain, 2 vols. Paris, 1893–1897. It gives the documents bearing on the Hist. of the English "nation" in Paris from 1393–1466.—Denifle: Urkunden zur Gesch. der mittelalt. Universitäten, in Archiv für Lit.- und Kirchengesch., V. 167 sqq., 1889.—Engl. trans. of the charter of Fred. Barbarossa, 1158; the Privilege of Philip Augustus, 1200; the charter of Frederick II. founding the Univ. of Naples; the Regulations of Robert de Courçon, 1215, etc., are given in the Trans. and Reprints of the Dep. of Hist., Univ. of Penn. — C. E. Bulaeus (Du Boulay): Hist. univ. Paris., etc., a Carolo Magno ad nostra tempora (1600), 6 vols. Paris, 1665–1678. A splendid work, but wrong in its description of the origin of the university and some matters of its organization.—F. C. von Savigny, Prof. in Berlin, d. 1861: Gesch. des röm. Rechts im M. A., Heidel., 2d ed., 1834, vol. III.—J. H. Newman: Office and Work of Universities, London, 1856, vol. III of his Hist. Sketches. An exaggerated estimate of medieval culture. I. Döllinger: D. Universitäten sonst und jetzt, in his Akad. Vorträge, Nordl., 1889.—*Denifle: D. Entstehung d. Universitäten d. Mittelalters bis 1400, Berlin, 1885, pp. 814. Marks an epoch in the treatment of the subject; is full of learning and original research, but repetitious and contentious. Denifle intended to write three more volumes.—*S. S. Laurie: The Rise and Constit. of Universities, etc., Camb., 1892.—G. Compayré: Abelard and Origin and Early Hist. of Universities, N. Y., 1898.—*H. Rashdall: The Universities of Europe in the M. A., 2 vols., Oxford, 1895. —P. SCHAFF: The Univ. Past, Present and Future, in Lit. and Poetry, pp. 256–278.


The university appears in Europe as an established institution in the twelfth century. It quickly became the restless centre of intellectual and literary life, the workshop of learning and scientific progress. Democratic in its constitution, it received men from every rank and sent them forth with new ideas and equipped to be the leaders of their age.

Origin. — The universities were a product of the mediaeval mind, to which nothing in the ancient world, in any adequate way, corresponded. They grew up on the soil of the cathedral and conventual studies, but there was no organic continuity between them and the earlier schools. They were of independent growth, coming into being in response to a demand, awakened by the changed circumstances of life and the revival of thought in Europe. No clatter and noise announced their coming, but they were developed gradually from imperfect beginnings into thoroughly organized literary corporations.

Nor were the universities the immediate creation of the Church. Church authority did not bring them into being as it did the Crusades. All that can be said is that the men who wrought at their foundations and the lower superstructures were ecclesiastics and that popes were wise enough early to become their patrons and, as in the case of Paris, to take the reins of their general administration into their own hands. The time had come for a specialization of studies in the departments of human knowledge, the arts, law, medicine, and theology, which last, according to Jacob of Vitry, "alone can be called a liberal art, since it alone delivers the human soul from its woes."

The universities owed their rise to the enthusiasm of single teachers12371237    "A teacher inspired by a love of teaching gathered around him a circle of scholars eager to learn. Other teachers followed, the circle of listeners increased, and thus, by a kind of inward necessity, an enduring school was founded." Savigny, XX. 58.he most prominent figure, were the centres where the university idea had its earliest and most substantial realization. These teachers satisfied and created a demand for specialization in education.

Due credit must not be withheld from the guilds whose organization furnished a pattern for the university, especially in the case of Bologna. The university was the literary guild, representing a like-minded community of intellectual interests and workers. It is also possible that some credit must be given to Arabic influences, as in the case of the school of medicine at Salerno.

The first universities arose in Italy, the earliest of all being Salerno and Bologna. These were followed by Paris and other French universities. England came next, and then Spain. Prague was the first to embody the idea in Central Europe. The distinctively German universities do not date beyond the second half of the fourteenth century, Vienna, 1365, Erfurt, 1379, Heidelberg, 1385, Cologne, 1388. The three Scotch universities, St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, were established in the fifteenth century. That century also witnessed the birth of the far northern Universities of Copenhagen and Upsala. By the end of the fifteenth century there were nearly eighty of these academic institutions. Some of these passed out of existence and some never attained to more than a local celebrity.

Salerno, Bologna, Paris, Padua, Oxford, Cambridge, and other universities owed their existence to no papal or royal charter. Toulouse, 1229 and Rome, 1244 were the first to be founded by papal bulls. The University of Naples was founded by the emperor, Frederick II., 1224. The Spanish Universities of Palencia, 1212, Salamanca, 1230, and Seville, 1254, were established by the kings of Castile. Prague, 1347, was founded by a double charter from the pope and Charles IV. Some universities had their origin in disaffection prevailing in universities already established: Padua started in a defection of students from Bologna; Cambridge, in 1209, in a defection of students from Oxford, and Leipzig, in 1409, grew out of the dissatisfaction of the German "nation" with its treatment at Prague. Heidelberg is the earliest institution of papal creation which went over to the Reformation.12381238    According to Denifle, after the middle of the thirteenth century, no university came into existence without a papal bull. I. 777. But Kaufmann disputes this view and, as it would seem, with reason. See Laurie, p. 137; Rashdall, I. 13. The mediaeval custom of giving a university legal existence by a papal bull was renewed for the United States when Leo XIII. chartered the University of Washington City, 1888.

Organization. — A university originally signified not a body of studies or a place where studies were prosecuted, but an aggregation of teachers and students—universitas magistrorum et scholarium. The term "university" was used of any group of persons and was a common expression for "Your body" or "all of you"—universitas vestra.12391239    Innocent III., 1205, addressed the professors of Paris in this way, universitatem vestram rogamus, Chart., I. 63. In this letter Innocent also addresses the corporation as universis magistris et scholaribus. So also Gregory IX., 1251, Alex. IV., 1256, etc., Chart., I. 136, 342, but the expression "university of masters and scholars," universitas magistrorum et scholarium, seems to have been used first in 1221. Chart., I. ix, 98, 99versity," as we use it, was studium and studium generale, "study" or, "general study." Thus the University of Bologna was called studium Bononie or Bononiense,—as it is still called studio Bolognese in Italy, Paris, studium Parisiense, Oxford, studium Oxoniense. The addition "general" had reference to students, not to a variety of branches of knowledge, and denoted that the studium was open to students from every quarter.12401240    Rashdall, I. 8, a "general study" might be founded for each separate faculty as the studium generale in theologica facultate. Denifle, I. 5.g. The designation of a seat of learning as alma or alma mater dates from the thirteenth century.

A full university requires at least four faculties, the arts—now known at the German universities as the faculty of philosophy,—law, medicine, and theology. This idea was not embodied in the earliest foundations and some of the universities remained incomplete during their entire existence. Salerno was a medical school. Bologna was for more than a century only a school of law. Salamanca, the most venerable of existing Spanish educational institutions, did not have a faculty of theology till the end of the fourteenth century.12411241    The term "faculty" at first seems to have been synonymous with "science," or branch of knowledge. Thus Frederick II., in chartering the University of Naples, spoke of those who teach the science of surgery, chirurgiae facultatem instruunt.lthough civil law was taught there before 1219.12421242    Honorius III., 1219, forbade the teaching of civil law in Paris. Chart., I. p. xxviii, 92.e. The reason for this may have been a purpose not to come into collision with the episcopal and conventual schools, which existed for the training of priests. The faculty of the arts, the lowest of the faculties, included the seven studies covered by the trivium and quadrivium, but was at a later period expanded so as to include metaphysical, linguistic, historic, and other studies not covered by the study of law, medicine, and theology. Theology was known as the highest and master study. Alexander IV., writing to Paris, 1256, said that theology ruled over the other studies like a mistress, and they followed her as servants.12431243    Praeest reliquis sicut superior, etc., Chart., I. 343.

The university had its own government, endowments, and privileges. These privileges, or bills of rights, were of great value, giving the body of teachers and students protection from the usual police surveillance exercised by municipalities and included their exemption from taxation, from military service except in cases of exigency, and from the usual modes of trial before the municipal authorities. Suits brought against members of the University of Paris were tried before the bishop of Paris. In Bologna, such suits were tried before the professor of the accused student or the bishop. By the privilege of Philip Augustus, 1200, the chattels of students at Paris were exempt from seizure by the civil officer. The university was a state within the state, a free republic of letters.12441244    The University of Cambridge in its calendar is still styled "a literary republic." Laurie, p. 186.ed, they resorted to what was called cessation, cessatio, a suspension of the functions of the university or even removal to some other locality. In 1229 the University of Paris suspended for two years on account of the delay of Queen Blanche to give redress for the violent death of two students during the carnival. Many professors left Paris till not a single one of fame remained. The bishop of Paris launched excommunications against the chief offenders; but the university was victorious and the king made apology for the injuries inflicted and the pope revoked the ecclesiastical censures. Gregory IX., 1231, confirmed this privilege of suspending lectures.12451245    Chart., I. 138, liceat vobis usque ad satisfactionem condignam suspendere lectiones.ty to teach, as conscience dictates, without fear of interference from the state.

The Model Universities.—In the administration of their affairs the universities followed Bologna and Paris as models. In Bologna the students were in control, in Paris the masters in conjunction with the students. As for their relation to the pope and the authority of the Church, Bologna was always free, antipapal and anticlerical, as compared with her younger sister in France. The democratic principle had large recognition. The first element to be noticed is the part played by the different faculties. In Paris the faculties were fully organized by the middle of the thirteenth century. In 1281, the university as a body promised to defend each of its faculties.12461246    Chart., I. 590. The term "faculty" was first used of the university of Paris by Honorius III., 1219. Chart., I. x, 87.hat time each faculty passed upon its own degrees, regulated its own lectures, and performed other special acts.

The second element was the part which the so-called nations had in the administration. In Bologna there were four nations, the Italians, English,12471247    English archdeacons were expected, after their election, to go to Bologna to study canon law. See Capes, Hist. of the Eng. Church, p. 240. goes back to the early years of the thirteenth century.12481248    Chart., I. 215, Honorius III., 1222, speaks of "nations," but does not definitely give the number. Chart., I. 103, Du Boulay, following a spurious document, dates their organization as far back as 1206. Denifle puts the existence of the four nations in Paris as far back as 1215-1222. See Chart., I. xxi. The first clear trace of the division into nations seems to be in a bull of Honorius III., 1217, and concerns Bologna. It is addressed to the scolaribus universitatis de urbe, de campania et de Tuscia, Bononie commorantibus. into provinces. An elective official, known as the rector, stood at the head of the whole corporation. At Bologna he was called, as early as 1194, "rector of the associations," rector societatum. He directed the affairs of the university in conjunction with a board of counsellors representing the provinces.

The first record calling the head of the University of Paris rector12491249    Rector univ. magistrorum et scolarium, Chart., I. pp. xxiii, 379. of the four nations. The rector had to be a master of arts and might be a layman, but must be a celibate. He performed on great occasions, and wore a striking costume. He was responsible to the body whose agent he was. The Paris rector was addressed as "your amplitude," vestra amplitudo.

At Paris there was also a chancellor, and he was the older officer. He stood at the head of the chapter of Notre Dame and was called interchangeably chancellor of the cathedral and chancellor of Paris. To him belonged the prerogative of giving the license to teach and confer degrees. His authority was recognized, time and again, by the popes, and also restricted by papal decree, so that what he lost the rector gained.12501250    Chart., I. p. xix.e archdeacon of the diocese conferred the degrees.12511251    Chart., I. 90 sqq.

Degrees.—By 1264, at latest, each faculty at Paris had its own dean12521252    Chart., I. pp. xi, 441.d by Bologna or Paris, carried with it the right to teach everywhere,—jus ubique docendi. Gregory IX., 1233, and other popes conferred the same prerogative upon the masters of Toulouse and other universities but it seems doubtful whether their degrees were respected. Even a degree from Oxford did not carry the right of lecturing at Paris without a reëxamination. When Alexander IV. granted to the masters of Salamanca the right of teaching everywhere, Bologna and Paris were expressly excepted.12531253    Rashdall, I. 16.

The question of mediaeval degrees offers much difficulty. There seem to have been three stages: bachelor, or baccalaureus, licentiate, and doctor or master. They corresponded to the three grades in the guilds: apprentice, assistant, and master. The bachelors were received after examination and did subordinate lecturing. The degree was not merely a testimonial of work done, but a certificate entitling the holder to ply the trade of reading or teaching. The titles, master, magister, doctor, dominus, and professor, scholasticus, were synonymous. "Doctor" was the usual title at Bologna, and "master" at Paris, but gradually "doctor" came to be used chiefly of the graduates in canon law at Paris, and "master" of graduates in theology.12541254    By the fifteenth century the title "doctor" had come to be the usual one for theologians in Germany, as Dr. Luther, Dr. Eck. Rashdall, I. 22. It was also applied to all the superior faculties. The title "master" was gradually restricted to the faculty of arts, and has gone out of use in Germany.oke of the "doctors and masters in each faculty," no doubt using the words as synonyms. The test for the degrees was called the "determination," determinance, the main part of which was the presentation of a thesis and its defence against all comers.

Eight years was fixed by Robert de Courcon, 1215, as the period of preparation for the theological doctorate, but in the beginning of the fourteenth century it was extended to fourteen years. In the department of jurisprudence a course of eight years,—in medicine a course of six years,—was required.

Teachers and Studies.—The teaching was done at first in convents and in private quarters. In 1253 there were twelve professors of theology in Paris, nine of them teaching in convents and belonging to the orders. University buildings were of slow growth, and the phenomenon presented by such great universities as Johns Hopkins, Cornell, and the University of Chicago, starting out fully equipped with large endowments and buildings, was unknown in the Middle Ages. Professors and students had to make their own way and at first no provision was made by king or municipality for salaries. The professor lived by lecture fees and the gifts of rich students. Later, endowments were provided, and cities provided funds for the payment of salaries.12551255    By the fourteenth century most of the professors in Bologna were paid by the municipality. Savigny, quoted by Compayré, p. 283.12561256    A bursa at the University of Paris was the sum of money paid each week in board. Auctar., I. pp. xlv, xlix; Chart., II. 673 sqq., etc.d by Robert of Sorbon, 1257, for sixteen secular students, four from each nation. The term "secular" was used in distinction from conventual. Another famous college was the college of Navarre on St. Genevieve, founded by the queen of Philip the Fair, Jeanne of Navarre, 1304. Rashdall, I. 478–517, gives a list of more than sixty colleges, or bursaries, founded in Paris before 1500. From being places of residence for needy students, the colleges came to include masters, as at Oxford and Cambridge. At Bologna the college system was never developed to the same extent as at Paris and in England.

With rare exceptions, the teachers in all the faculties were ecclesiastics, or, if laymen, unmarried. John XXII., in 1331, granted a dispensation to a married man to teach medicine in Paris, but it was an exception. Not till 1452 was the requirement of celibacy modified for the faculty of medicine in Paris, and till 1479 for Heidelberg; and not till a later date were the legal professors of Paris and Bologna exempted from this restriction. The Reformation at once effected a change in the universities under Protestant influence.12571257    See Rashdall, II. 647 sqq. Compayré, p. 286, commenting upon the marital prohibition, observes that the rod would not have been retained so long in the universities if the teachers had had families.

The lectures were given in Latin and students as well as masters were required to use Latin in conversation. Learning of any kind was regarded as too sacred a thing to be conveyed in the vulgar dialects of Europe.12581258    A good illustration of the use of Latin by students is given in the most interesting dialogue of two students on their way to Wittenberg, the MS. of which was discovered by Prof. Haussleiter, 1898, in the library of Jena, and published. Leipzig, 1903, D. Univ. Wittenb. n. d. Schilderung d. Mag. Andreas Meinhardi, 1507.12591259    Chart., I. 78.oks should be. The classics had no place. Certain works of Aristotle were forbidden, as were also, at a later date, the writings of Amauri of Bena, David of Dinant, and other supposed or real heretics. Gregory IX. warned the divinity students against affecting philosophy, and to be satisfied with becoming "theodocts."12601260    satagant fieri theodocti, Chart., I. 138. Students were obliged to swear they had "heard" the required books. Chart., I., 227 sqq., for the year 1252; II. 673, for the year 1347, etc.

Attendance and Discipline.—The attendance at the mediaeval universities has been a matter of much dispute. Some of the figures seem to be incredibly large.12611261    Denifle, p. 248. for the earliest periods, and not till the end of the fourteenth century do we have actual records of the number of graduations in Paris. Odefridus, a writer of the thirteenth century, gives the number of students at Bologna two generations before, as 10,000. Paris was reported to have had 25,000 students, and Oxford as many as 30,000,12621262    Richard Fitz-Ralph, archbishop of Armagh, writing about 1330, sets the number of students in his own day at six thousand.tured to 3000 hearers, and this figure does not seem to be exaggerated when we consider the great attraction of his personality. In any estimate, it must be remembered that the student body included boys and also men well up in years. Rashdall makes 1500 to 3000 the maximum number for Oxford.12631263    See Rashdall, II. 584 sqq.

There was no such thing as university discipline in the thirteenth century, as we understand discipline. The testimonies are unanimous that the students led a wild life.12641264    Chart., I. Nos. 60, 197, 425, etc. the department of arts. There were no dormitories, and the means of communication then at hand did not make it possible for parents to exercise the checks upon absent sons such as they may exercise to-day. Felix Platter, d. 1614, states in his autobiography that, as late as the middle of the sixteenth century, it required twenty days to make the journey from Basel to the school of Montpellier. At Paris students were excused from the payment of fees on account of the long distances from which they had come, the journeys often requiring several months and involving perils from robbers.12651265    Auctar., I. p. xlvi. into houses, ravished women, and committed robberies and "many other enormities hateful to God."12661266    Chart., I. 426; Compayré, p. 276.ame proverbial.12671267    Cantat ut Normannus, bibit ut Anglicanus, Auctar., I. p. lvi. For the fighting abilities of the English nation see Auctar. I. p. lx. Rashdall, II. 678 sqq., gives a number of cases of fights between town and gown in Paris. The cases of 1278 and 1304 were the most notorious.12681268    Chart., I. 138.

The rescript given by Frederick Barbarossa to Bologna, 1158, presented a picture of students as those "who exile themselves through love of learning and wear themselves out in poverty." The facts do not support any rosy picture of social equality, such as we would expect in an ideal democracy. The number who were drawn to the universities from love of adventure and novelty must have been large. The nobleman had his special quarters and his servants, while the poor student begged his bread. It was the custom of the chancellor of Oxford to issue licenses for the needy to beg.12691269    Rashdall, II. 656 sqq. Rashdall gives the following estimate of living in Oxford in the fifteenth century. Meat was ¼ d. a pound; butter and cheese, ½d. a pound, while six pounds of wheat cost 4 d. Thus, 1½ pounds of bread, 1 pound of meat, and ¼ pound of butter and cheese made up about 1 d. a day, or 7 d. a week, "a tolerably substantial basis for a student’s diet."he first seats.12701270    Compayré, p. 271

The mediaeval universities were the centres of the ideals and hopes of the younger generation. There, the seeds were sown of the ecclesiastical and intellectual movements of after times and of the revolutions which the conservative groups pronounced scientific novelties and doctrinal heresies.

A mediaeval writer pronounced the three chief forces for the maintenance of the Catholic faith to be the priesthood, the empire, and the university. This was not always the case. From Paris went forth some of the severest attacks on the theory of papal absolutism, and from there, a century later, the reformers, Gerson and D’Ailly, proceeded. Hussitism was begotten at Prague. Wyclif’s teachings made Oxford a seat of heresy. Wittenberg, the last of the mediaeval universities to open its doors, protected and followed Luther. Basel, Pius II.’s creation, Heidelberg, Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews, and other universities became the bulwarks of the new ideas. On the other hand, the Sorbonne, Louvaine, and Cologne ordered Luther’s works burnt. As an agent of culture and the onward progress of mankind, the Middle Ages made no contribution to modern times comparable in usefulness to the university.



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