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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 92. The University of Paris.


Literature: The works of Bulaeus, Denifle, Rashdall, etc., as given in § 90. Vol. I. of the Chartularium gives the official documents bearing on the history of the Univ. from 1200–1286 with an Introd. by Denifle.—Crevier: Hist. de l’Univ. de Paris, 7 vols. Paris, 1761, based on Bulaeus.—P. Feret: La Faculté de Theol. de Paris et ses docteurs les plus celèbres au moyen âge, 5 vols. Paris, 1894 sqq.—A. Luchaire: L’univ. de Paris sous Phil. Auguste, Paris, 1899.—C. Gross: The Polit. Infl. of the Univ. of Paris in the M. A., in Am. Hist. Rev., 1901, pp. 440–446.—H. Felder: Gesch. der wissenschaftl. Studien im Franziskanerorden bis c. 1250, Freib., 1904.—F. X. Seppelt: D. Kampf d. Bettelorden an d. Univ. zu Paris in d. Mitte d. 13ten Jahrh., Breslau, 1905.—Rashdall: Universities, I. 270–557, and the table of Lit. there given.


The lustre of the University of Paris filled all Western Europe as early as the first years of the thirteenth century. It continued to be the chief seat of theological and general learning till the Reformation. In 1231 Gregory IX. called Paris "the parent of the sciences, another Kerieth Sepher, a city of letters, in which, as in a factory of wisdom, the precious stones and gold of wisdom are wrought and polished for the Church of Christ."12821282    Chart., I. 137.12831283    Chart., I. 343. most excellent state of letters, a famous city of the arts, a notable school of erudition, the highest factory of wisdom,—officina sapientiae — and the most efficient gymnasium of study. There, a clear spring of the sciences breaks forth at which the peoples of all nations drink." Three hundred years later, in 1518, Luther, in his protest to Cajetan, expressed his willingness to have his case go before the University of Paris to which he referred, "as the parent of studies and from antiquity ever the most Christian University and that in which theology has been particularly cultivated."

The old tradition, which traced the origin of the university back to Charlemagne, the pride of the French has been slow to abandon. Du Boulay devoted an entire volume to its assumed history before the year 1000. Not even was Abaelard its founder. The most that can be said is, that that brilliant teacher prepared the way for the new institution,12841284    Denifle, p. 677.

From its earliest era of development, the university received the recognition of royalty and the favor of popes who were quick to discern its future importance. In the year 1200 Philip Augustus, king of France, conferred upon it a valuable privilege, granting the students and teaching body independent rights over against the municipal government. Among its venerable documents are communications from Innocent III., his legate, Robert of Courçon, Honorius III. and Gregory IX., 1231. From that time on, the archives abound in papal letters and communications addressed to the pope by the university authorities.

In Paris, as has already been said, the masters were the controlling body. The first use of the expression "university of masters and scholars" occurs in 1221.12851285    Chart., I. 98 sq.e of statutes is found in a bull of Innocent III., written about 1209.12861286    Denifle gives the date as 1208 or 1209, Chart., I. 67. Rashdall, I. 301, puts it in 1210.bert of Courçon, 1215, prescribed text-books and other regulations. A university seal was used as early as 1221.12871287    Chart., I. 100. The seal was broken 1225. The seal of 1292 is preserved in Paris, Chart., I. p. ix sq.

There has been much difference of opinion as to what was the original norm of the organization of the university. Denifle, the leading modern authority, insists against Du Boulay that it was the four faculties and not the "nations," and he finds the faculties developed in the earliest years of the thirteenth century.12881288    Universitäten, pp. 64 sqq., 655 sqq. Du Boulay was followed by Savigny. Seppelt, p. 221, agrees with Denifle.12891289    John’s biographer, Thomas of Walsingham, says John was a diligent student in Paris "in his youth" and was taken into "the association of the elect masters."dy of masters," and in 1213 he recognized the right of the masters to insist upon the conferring of the license to teach upon the candidates whom they presented. The chancellor was left no option in the matter.12901290    Chart., I. 73, 75, 85. his authority was still more curtailed by the withdrawal of some of the masters to the hill of St. Genevieve on the western bank of the Seine. The abbot of St. Genevieve, who began to be styled, "Chancellor of St. Genevieve" in 1255, assumed the right to confer licensures or degrees and the right was recognized by papal decree.12911291    Chart., I. 75, 85. The formula used by the chancellor of St. Genevieve is given in the Chart., I. 299.

The four nations seem to have been developed out of the demand for discipline among the students of cognate regions and for mutual protection against the civil authorities. It is quite possible the example set in Bologna had some influence in Paris.

The bull of Gregory IX., 1231, parens scientiarum, called by Denifle the "magna charta of the university," recognized and sealed its liberties. It was called forth by the suspension of lectures which had lasted two years. The trouble originated in a brawl in an inn, which developed into a fight between gown and town. The police of the city, with the assent of Queen Blanche, interfered, and killed several of the students. The professors ordered a "cessation" and, when they found that justice was not done, adjourned the university for six years. Some of them emigrated to England and were employed at Oxford and Cambridge.12921292    See Henry III.’s letter, Chart., I. 119.rought to an end by Gregory IX., who ratified the right of the masters to secede, and called upon Blanche to punish the offending officials, forbade the chancellor to have any prisons, and the bishop from imposing mulcts or imprisoning students.

It is possible that the office of rector goes back as far as 1200, when an official was called "the head of the Paris scholars."12931293    Capitale Parisiensium scolarium, Chart., I. 60. This, the view of Du Boulay, is adopted by Savigny. Rashdall, I. 297, gives the expression an entirely different signification, and says it does not refer to persons at all but to chattels. Denifle, p. 119, takes an entirely different view, and denies that the university had a rector in the full sense till the middle of the fourteenth century. His view is that the rector of the faculty of the Arts gradually came to be recognized as the rector of the whole university. Rashdall gives good grounds for holding that he was the recognized head of the university, certainly as far back as the middle of the thirteenth century.12941294    Chart., I. 179, 379.r custom, in communicating with the university, to address the "rector and the masters." The question of precedence as between the rector and other high dignitaries, such as the bishop and chancellor of Paris, was one which led to much dispute and elbowing. Du Boulay, himself an ex-rector, takes pride in giving instances of the rector’s outranking archbishops, cardinals, papal nuncios, peers of France, and other lesser noteworthies at public functions.12951295    Bulaeus, V. 359.

The faculties came to be presided over by deans, the nations by proctors. In the management of the general affairs of the university, the vote was taken by faculties.

The liberties, which the university enjoyed in its earlier history, were greatly curtailed by Louis XI. and by his successors in the latter half of the fifteenth century. The university was treated to sharp rebukes for attempting to interfere with matters that did not belong to it. The right of cessation was withdrawn and the free election of the rectors denied.12961296    Amer. Hist. Rev., 1901, p. 442.

The fame of the University of Paris came from its schools of arts and theology. The college of the Sorbonne, originally a bursary for poor students of theology, afterwards gave its name to the theological department. It was founded by Robert of Sorbon, the chaplain of St. Louis, the king himself giving part of the site for its building. In the course of time, its halls came to be used for disputations, and the decisions of the faculty obtained a European reputation. Theological students of twenty-five years of age, who had studied six years, and passed an examination, were eligible for licensure as bachelors. For the first three years they read on the Bible and then on the Sentences of the Lombard. These readers were distinguished as Biblici and Sententiarii. The age limit for the doctorate was thirty-five.

One of the most interesting chapters in the history of the university is the struggle over the admission of the mendicant friars in the middle of the thirteenth century. The papacy secured victory for the friars. And the unwilling university was obliged to recognize them as a part of its teaching force.

The struggle broke out first at the time of the "cessation," 1229, when, as it would seem, the Dominicans secretly favored the side of the civil magistrates against the university authorities, and poisoned the court against them. The Dominicans were established in Paris, 1217 and the Franciscans, 1220, and both orders, furnished with letters of commendation by Honorius III., were at first well received, so the masters themselves declared in a document dated 1254.12971297    Chart., I. 253. Felder, pp. 159 sqq., strange to say, entirely passes over this conflict so that the reader would never dream there had been one. demand the right to degrees for their students without promising submission to the statutes of the university. One of the first two Dominican masters to teach at the university was the Englishman, John of Giles. After preaching on poverty in St. Jacques, John descended from the pulpit and put on the Dominican robes.

At the "cessation" of 1251 the two Dominicans and one Franciscan, who were recognized as masters by the university, refused to join with the other authorities, and, after the settlement of the difficulty, the two Dominicans were refused readmittance. A statute was passed forbidding admission to the fellowship, consortium, of the university for those who refused to take the oath to obey its rules. The friars refused to obey the statute and secured from Alexander IV. an order requiring the university to receive them, and setting aside all sentences passed against them.12981298    Chart., I. 285, omnes sententias privationis seu separationis a consortia … penitus revocamus.

The friction continued, and the seculars sought to break the influence of the Franciscans by pointing out the heresies of Joachim of Flore. The friars retorted by attacking William of St. Amour whose work, The Perils of the Last Times, was a vigorous onslaught upon mendicancy as contrary to Apostolic teaching. William’s book, which called out refutations from Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventura, was burnt, and refusing to recant, the author was suspended from teaching and banished from France.12991299    Chart., I. 362, 363, 367, 404, etc. repayment to the university for its readiness from of old to accept its guidance by depriving the institution of its liberties.13001300    See Rashdall, I. 391. The account given above differs from the account of Seppelt who justifies the friars at every step and finds in the good reception they at first received from the university masters a proof that they conducted themselves properly all the way through.

From the middle of the fourteenth century, the University of Paris played no mean part in the political affairs of France. More than once she spoke before the court and before the peers of the realm, and more than once was she rebuked for her unsolicited zeal.13011301    See Amer. Hist. Rev., 1901, p. 442 sq. of Arc.13021302    Chart., IV. Nos. 510-528.

As a factor in the religious history of Europe, the university figured most prominently during the Western schism—1378–1418. She suggested the three ways of healing the rupture and, to accomplish this result, sent her agents through Western Europe to confer with the kings and other powers. Under the guidance of her chancellors, Gerson and D’Ailly, the discussions of the Reformatory councils of Pisa and Constance were directed, which brought the papal schism to an end. The voting by nations at Constance was her triumph.

As for disputes on distinctly doctrinal questions, the university antagonized John XXII. and his heresy, denying the beatific vision at death. In 1497 she exacted from all candidates for degrees an oath accepting the dogma of the immaculate conception. When the Protestant Reformation came, she decided against that movement and ordered the books of Luther burnt.



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