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University of Paris

Origin and Early Organization

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PARIS, UNIVERSITY OF.—Origin and Early Organization.—Three schools were especially famous at Paris, the palatine or palace school, the school of Notre-Dame, and that of Sainte-Genevieve. The decline of royalty inevitably brought about the decline of the first. The other two, which were very old, like those of the cathedrals and the abbeys, are only faintly outlined during the early centuries of their existence. The glory of the palatine school doubtless eclipsed theirs, until in the course of time it completely gave way to them. These two centers were much frequented and many of their masters were esteemed for their learning. It is not until the tenth century, however, that we meet with a professor of renown in the school of Ste-Geneviève. This was Hubold, who, not content with the courses at Liège, came to continue his studies at Paris, entered or allied himself with the chapter of Ste-Geneviève, and by his teaching attracted many pupils. Recalled by his bishop to Belgium, he soon profited by a second journey to Paris to give lessons with no less success. As to the school of Notre-Dame, while many of its masters are mentioned simply as having been professors at Paris, in its later history we meet with a number of distinguished names: in the eleventh century, Lambert, disciple of Fulbert of Chartres; Drogo of Paris; Manegold of Germany; Anselm of Laon. These two schools, attracting scholars from every country, produced many illustrious men, among whom were: St. Stanislaus, Bishop of Cracow; Gebbard, Archbishop of Salzburg; St. Stephen, third Abbot of Cïteaux; Robert d’Arbrissel, founder of the Abbey of Fontevrault etc. The honor of having formed similar pupils is indiscriminately ascribed to Notre-Dame and to Ste-Geneviève, as du Molinet has justly remarked (Bibl. Sainte-Geneviève, MS.H. fr. 21, in fol., p. 576). Humanistic instruction comprised grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (trivium and quadrivium). To the higher instruction belonged dogmatic and moral theology, whose source was the Scriptures and the Fathers, and which was completed by the study of canon law. Three men were to add a new splendor to the schools of Notre-Dame and Ste-Geneviève, namely William of Champeaux, Abelard, and Peter Lombard. A new school arose which rivaled those of Notre-Dame and Ste-Geneviève. It owed its foundation to the same William of Champeaux when he withdrew to the Abbey of St-Victor and it took the name of that abbey. Two men shed special radiance on this school, Hugh and Richard, who added to their own names that of the abbey at which they were religious and professors. The plan of studies expanded in the schools of Paris as it did elsewhere. The great work of a monk of Bologna, known as the “Decretum Gratiani”, brought about a division of the science of theology. Hitherto the discipline of the Church had not been separate from theology properly so-called; they were studied together under the same professor. But this vast collection necessitated a special course, which was naturally undertaken first at Bologna, where Roman law was taught. In France, first Orléans and then Paris erected chairs of canon law, which except at Paris were usually also chairs of civil law. The capital of the kingdom might thus boast of this new professorate, that of the “Decretum Gratiani”, to which before the end of the twelfth century were added the Decretals of Gerard (or Girard) La Pucelle, Mathieu d’Angers, and Anselm (or Anselle) of Paris, but civil law was not included. In the course of the twelfth century also medicine began to be publicly taught at Paris. A professor of medicine is mentioned in this city at this time, namely Hugo, “physicus excellens qui quadrivium docuit”, and it is to be assumed that this science was included in his teaching. For the right to teach, two things were necessary, knowledge and appointment. Knowledge was proved by examination, the appointment came from the examiner himself, who was the head of the school, and was known as scholasticus, capiscol, and eventually as “chancellor”. This was called the licence or faculty to teach. Without this authorization there was danger of the chairs being occupied by ignorant persons, whom John of Salisbury depicts as “children yesterday, masters today; yesterday receiving strokes of the ferrule, today teaching in a long gown” (Metalogicus, I, xxv in init.). The licence had to be granted gratuitously. Without it no one could teach; on the other hand, it could not be refused when the applicant deserved it. The school of St-Victor, which shared the obligations as well as the immunities of the abbey, conferred the licence in its own right; the school of Notre-Dame depended on the diocese, that of Ste-Geneviève on the abbey or chapter. It was the diocese and the abbey or chapter which through their chancellor gave professorial investiture in their respective territories, i.e. the diocese in the city intra pontes and other places subject to the ordinary, the abbey or chapter on the left bank of the river as far as its jurisdiction reached. Consequently, as du Molinet explains, it was incumbent on the chancellor of Notre-Dame and Ste-Geneviève to examine “those who applied to teach in the schools”, to “license after study those who sought to be masters and regents” (op. cit., 585). Besides these three centers of learning there were several schools on the “Island” and on the “Mount”. “Whoever”, says Crevier “had the right to teach might open a school where he pleased, provided it was not in the vicinity of a principal school”. Thus a certain Adam, who was of English origin, kept his “near the Petit Pont”; another Adam, Parisian by birth, “taught at the Grand Pont which is called the Pont-au-Change” (Hist. de l’Univers. de Paris, I, 272). The number of students in the schools of the capital grew constantly, so that eventually the lodgings were insufficient. Among the French students there were princes of the blood, sons of the nobility, and the most distinguished youths of the kingdom. The courses at Paris were considered so necessary as a completion of studies that many foreigners flocked to them. Popes Celestine II and Adrian IV had studied at Paris, Alexander III sent his nephews there, and, under the name of Lothaire, a scion of the noble family of Seigny, who was later to rule the Church as Innocent III, belonged to the student body. Otto of Freisingen, Cardinal Conrad, Archbishop of Mainz, St. Thomas of Canterbury, and John of Salisbury were among the most illustrious sons of Germany and England in the schools of Paris; while Ste-Genevieve became practically the seminary for Denmark. The chroniclers of the time call Paris the city of letters par excellence, placing it above Athens, Alexandria, Rome, and other cities: “At that time” we read in the “Chroniques de St-Denis”, “there flourished at Paris philosophy and all branches of learning, and there the seven arts were studied and held in such esteem as they never were at Athens, Egypt, Rome, or elsewhere in the world” (“Les gestes de Philippe-Auguste”). Poets said the same thing in their verses, and they compared it to all that was greatest, noblest, and most valuable in the world. To maintain order among the students and define the relations of the professors, organization was necessary. It had its beginnings, and it developed as circumstances permitted or required. Three features in this organization may be noted: first, the professors formed an association, for according to Matthew Paris, John of Celles, twenty-first Abbot of St. Albans, England, was admitted as a member of the teaching corps of Paris after he had followed the courses (Vita Joannis I, XXI, abbat. S. Alban). Again, the masters as well as the students were divided according to provinces, for as the same historian states, Henry II, King of England, in his difficulties with St. Thomas of Canterbury, wished to submit his cause to a tribunal composed of professors of Paris, chosen from various provinces (Hist. major, Henry II, to end of 1169). This was probably the germ of that division according to “nations” which was later to play an important part in the university. Lastly, mention must be made of the privileges then enjoyed by the professors and students. In virtue of a decision of Celestine III, they were amenable only to the ecclesiastical courts. Other decisions dispensed them from residence in case they possessed benefices and permitted them to receive their revenues. These three schools of Notre-Dame, Ste-Geneviève, and St-Victor may be regarded as the triple cradle of the Universitas scholarium, which included masters and students; hence the name University. Such is the common and more probable opinion. Denifle and some others hold that this honor must be reserved to the school of Notre-Dame (Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis), but the reasons do not seem convincing. He excludes St-Victor because, at the request of the abbot and the religious of St-Victor, Gregory IX in 1237 authorized them to resume the interrupted teaching of theology. But the university was in large part founded about 1208, as is shown by a Bull of Innocent III. Consequently the schools of St-Victor might well have furnished their contingent towards its formation. Secondly, Denifle excludes the schools of Ste-Geneviève because there had been no interruption in the teaching of the liberal arts. Now this is far from proved, and moreover, it seems incontestable that theology also had never ceased to be taught, which is sufficient for our point. Besides, the role of the chancellor of Ste-Geneviève in the university cannot be explained by the new opinion; he continued to give degrees in arts, a function which would have ceased for him when the university was organized if his abbey had no share in its organization. And while the name Universitas scholarium is quite intelligible on the basis of the common opinion, it is incompatible with the recent (Denise’s) view, according to which there would have been schools outside the university.

Organization in the Thirteenth Century.—As completing the work of organization the diploma of Philip Augustus and the statutes of Robert de Courcon are worthy of note. The king’s diploma was given “for the security of the scholars of Paris“, and in virtue of it from the year 1200 the students were subject only to ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Hence the provost and other officers were forbidden to arrest a student for any offense, and if in exceptional cases this was done it was only to hand over the culprit to ecclesiastical authority, for in the event of grave crime royal justice was limited to taking cognizance of the procedure and the verdict. In no case could the king’s officers lay hands on the head of the schools or even on a simple regent, this being allowed only in virtue of a mandate proceeding from ecclesiastical authority. The statutes of the Apostolic legate are later by some years, bearing the date 1215. They had for their object the moral or intellectual part of the instruction. They dealt with three principal points, the conditions of the professorate, the matter to be treated, and the granting of the licence. To teach the arts it was necessary to have reached the age of twenty-one, after having studied these arts at least six years, and to take an engagement as professor for at least two years. For a chair in theology the candidate had to be thirty years of age with eight years of theological studies, of which the last three years were at the same time devoted to special courses of lectures in preparation for the mastership. These studies had to be made in the local schools and under the direction of a master, for at Paris one was not regarded as a scholar unless he had a particular master. Lastly, purity of morals was not less requisite than learning. Priscian’s “Grammar”, Aristotle‘s “Dialectics”, mathematics, astronomy, music, certain books of rhetoric and philosophy were the subjects taught in the arts course; to these might be added the Ethics of the Stagyrite and the fourth book of the Topics. But it was forbidden to read the books of Aristotle on Metaphysics and Physics, or abbreviations of them. The licence was granted, according to custom, gratuitously, without oath or condition. Masters and students were permitted to unite, even by oath, in defense of their rights, when they could not otherwise obtain justice in serious matters. No mention is made either of law or of medicine, probably because these sciences were less prominent. A denial of justice by the queen brought about in 1229 a suspension of the courses. Appeal was taken to the pope who intervened in the same year by a Bull which began with a eulogy of the university. “Paris“, said Gregory IX, “mother of the sciences, is another Cariath-Sepher, city of letters”. He compared it to a laboratory in which wisdom tested the metals which she found there, gold and silver to adorn the Spouse of Jesus Christ, iron to fashion the spiritual sword which should smite the inimical powers. He commissioned the Bishops of Le Mans and Senlis and the Archdeacon of Châlons to negotiate with the French Court for the restoration of the university. The year 1230 came to an end without any result, and Gregory IX took the matter directly in hand by a Bull of 1231 addressed to the masters and scholars of Paris. Not content with settling the dispute and giving guarantees for the future, he sanctioned and developed the concessions of Robert de Courcon by empowering the university to frame statutes concerning the discipline of the schools, the method of instruction, the defense of theses, the costume of the professors, and the obsequies of masters and students. What was chiefly important was that the pope recognized in the university or granted it the right, in case justice were denied it, to suspend its courses until it should receive full satisfaction. It must be borne in mind that in the schools of Paris not only was the granting of licence gratuitous but instruction also was free. This was the general rule; however, it was often necessary to depart from it. Thus Pierre Le Mangeur was authorized by the pope to levy a moderate fee for the conferring of the licence. Similar fees were exacted for the first degree in arts and letters, and the scholars were taxed two sous weekly, to be deposited in the common fund. The university was organized as follows: at the head of the teaching body was a rector. The office was elective and of short duration. At first it was limited to four or six weeks. Simon de Brion, legate of the Holy See in France, rightly judging that such frequent changes caused serious inconvenience, decided that the rectorate should last three months, and this rule was observed for three years. Then the term was lengthened to one, two, and sometimes three years. The right of election belonged to the procurators of the four nations. The “Nations” appeared in the second half of the twelfth century; they were mentioned in the Bull of Honorius III in 1222 and in another of Gregory IX in 1231; later they formed a distinct body. In 1249 the four nations existed with their procurators, their rights (more or less well-defined), and their keen rivalries; and in 1254, in the heat of the controversy between the university and the mendicant orders, a letter was addressed to the pope bearing the seals of the four nations. These were the French, English, Normans, and Picards. After the Hundred Years’ War the English nation was replaced by the Germanic or German. The four nations constituted the faculty of arts or letters. The expression faculty, though of ancient usage, did not have in the beginning its present meaning; it then indicated a branch of instruction. It is especially in a Bull of Gregory IX that it is used to designate the professional body, and it may have had the same meaning in a university Act of 1221 (cf. “Hist. Universitatis Parisiensis”, III, 106). If the natural division of the schools of Paris into nations arose from the native countries of the students, the classification of knowledge must quite as naturally have introduced the division into faculties. Professors of the same science were brought into closer contact; community of rights and interests cemented the union and made of them distinct groups, which at the same time remained integral parts of the teaching body. Thus the faculties gradually arose and consequently no precise account of their origin can be given. The faculty of medicine would seem to be the last in point of time. But the four faculties were already formally designated in a letter addressed in February, 1254, by the university to the prelates of Christendom, wherein mention is made of “theology, jurisprudence, medicine, and rational, natural, and moral philosophy”. In the celebrated Bull “Quasi Lignum” (April, 1255), Alexander IV speaks of “the faculties of theology” of other “faculties”, namely those of canonists, physicians, and artists. If the masters in theology set the example in this special organization, those in decretals and medicine hastened to follow it. This is proved by the seals which the last-named adopted some years later, as the masters in arts had already done. The faculties of theology, or canon law, and medicine, were called “superior faculties”. The title of “dean” as designating the head of a faculty, was not in use until the second half of the thirteenth century. In this matter the faculties of decretals and medicine seem to have taken the lead, which the faculty of theology followed, for in authentic acts of 1268 we read of the deans of decretals and medicine, while the dean of theology is not mentioned until 1296. It would seem that at first the deans were the oldest masters. The faculty of arts continued to have four procurators of its four nations and its head was the rector. As the faculties became more fully organized, the division into four nations partially disappeared for theology, decretals and medicine, while it continued in arts. Eventually the superior faculties were to include only doctors, leaving the bachelors to the nations. At this period, therefore, the university had two principal degrees, the baccalaureate and the doctorate. It was not until much later that the licentiate, while retaining its early character, became an intermediate degree. Besides, the university numbered among its members beadles and messengers, who also performed the duties of clerks. The scattered condition of the scholars in Paris often made the question of lodging difficult. Recourse was had to the townsfolk, who exacted high rates while the students demanded lower. Hence arose friction and quarrels, which, as the scholars were very numerous, would have developed into a sort of civil war if a remedy had not been found. The remedy sought was taxation. This right of taxation, included in the regulation of Robert de Courgon, had passed on to the university. It was upheld in the Bull of Gregory IX of 1231, but with an important modification, for its exercise was to be shared with the citizens. These circumstances had long shown the need of new arrangements. The aim was to offer the students a shelter where they would fear neither annoyance from the owners nor the dangers of the world. The result was the foundation of the colleges (colligere, to assemble). This measure also furthered the progress of studies by a better employment of time, under the guidance sometimes of resident masters and out of the way of dissipation. These colleges were not usually centers of instruction, but simple boarding-houses for the students, who went from them to the schools. Each had a special object, being established for students of the same nationality or the same science. Four colleges appear in the twelfth century; they became more numerous in the thirteenth, and among them may be mentioned Harcourt and the Sorbonne. Thus the University of Paris, which in general was the type of the other universities, had already assumed the form which it afterwards retained. It was composed of seven groups, the four nations of the faculty of arts, and the three superior faculties of theology, law, and medicine. Ecclesiastical dignities, even abroad, seemed reserved for the masters and students of Paris. This preference became a general rule, and eventually a right, that of eligibility to benefices. Such was the origin and early organization of the University of Paris which might even then, in virtue of their protection, call itself the daughter of kings, but which was in reality the daughter of the Church. St. Louis, in the diploma which he granted to the Carthusians for their establishment near Paris, speaks of this city, where “flow the most abundant waters of wholesome doctrine, so that they become a great river which after refreshing the city itself irrigates the Universal Church“. Clement IV uses a no less charming comparison: “the noble and renowned city, the city which is the source of learning and sheds over the world a light which seems an image of the celestial splendor; those who are taught there shine brilliantly, and those who teach there will shine with the stars for all eternity” (cf. du Boulay, “Hist. Univers. Paris“, III, 360-71). Later History.—Abuses crept in; to correct these and to introduce various needed modifications in the work of the university was the purpose of the reform carried out in the fifteenth century by Cardinal d’Estouteville, Apostolic legate in France. As a whole it was less an innovation than a recall to the better observance of the ancient statutes. The reform of 1600, undertaken by the royal government, was of the same character with regard to the three superior faculties. As to the faculty of arts, the study of Greek was added to that of Latin, only the best classical authors were recommended; the French poets and orators were used along with Hesiod, Plato, Demosthenes, Cicero, Virgil, and Sallust. The prohibition to teach civil law was never well observed at Paris. But in 1679 Louis XIV authorized the teaching of civil law in the faculty of decretals. As a logical consequence the name “faculty of law” replaced that of “faculty of decretals”. The colleges meantime had multiplied; those of Cardinal Le-Moine and Navarre were founded in the fourteenth century. The Hundred Years’ War was fatal to these establishments, but the university set about remedying the injury. Remarkable for its teaching, the University of Paris played an important part: in the Church, during the Great Schism; in the councils, in dealing with heresies and deplorable divisions; in the State, during national crises; and if under the domination of England it dishonored itself in the trial of Joan of Arc, it rehabilitated itself by rehabilitating the heroine herself. Proud of its rights and privileges, it fought energetically to maintain them. Hence the long struggle against the mendicant orders on academic as well as on religious grounds. Hence also the conflict, shorter but also memorable, against the Jesuits, who claimed by word and action a share in its teaching. It made liberal use of its right to decide administratively according to occasion and necessity. In some instances it openly endorsed the censures of the faculty of theology and in its own name pronounced condemnation, as in the case of the Flagellants. Its patriotism was especially manifested on two occasions. During the captivity of King John, when Paris was given over to factions, the university sought energetically to restore peace; and under Louis XIV, when the Spaniards had crossed the Somme and threatened the capital, it placed two hundred men at the king’s disposal and offered the Master of Arts degree gratuitously to scholars who should present certificates of service in the army (Jourdain, “Hist. de l’Univers. de Paris au XVIIe et XVIIIe siecle”, 132-34; “Archiv. du ministère de l’instruction publique”). The ancient university was to disappear with ancient France under the Revolution. On September 15, 1793, petitioned by the Department of Paris and several departmental groups, the National Convention decided that independently of the primary schools, already the objects of its solicitude, “there should be established in the Republic three progressive degrees of instruction; the first for the knowledge indispensable to artisans and workmen of all kinds; the second for further knowledge necessary to those intending to embrace the other professions of society; and the third for those branches of instruction the study of which is not within the reach of all men”. Measures were to be taken immediately: “For means of execution the department and the municipality of Paris are authorized to consult with the Committee of Public Instruction of the National Convention, in order that these establishments shall be put in action by November 1 next, and consequently colleges now in operation and the faculties of theology, medicine, arts, and law are suppressed throughout the Republic”. This was the death-sentence of the university. It was not to be restored after the Revolution had subsided, any more than those of the provinces. All were replaced by a single center, viz., the University of France. The lapse of a century brought the recognition that the new system was less favorable to study, and it was sought to restore the old system, but without the faculty of theology.


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