THE MEDIEVAL UNIVERSITIES
[Excerpted from Carlton Munro, The Middle Ages, 395-1272 (New York: The Century Company, 1921), pp. 366-378]
Grammar. In the twelfth century the abbot Guibert wrote: "I see villages and towns fairly burn with eagerness in the study of grammar." Grammar, as he uses the word, included the study of the Latin poets and historians and the art of correct speaking and writing. Chartres was the most important center for this subject, and John of Salisbury, who had been a pupil of Abelard was the foremost teacher. Yet, in spite of Guibert's statement John found it necessary to write a treatise in defense of the classics against those who were urging the claims of more practical studies. The arguments used by each side have an interesting resemblance to those with which we have become so familiar in recent times.
Dialectics. The greatest rival of grammar in the schools was dialectics in the study of which Abelard became famous. As handled by such a master it was believed by many to be the means by which all learning might be mastered. Its popularity was greatly enhanced by the acquisition of writings of Aristotle, which had been unknown in the west of Europe. The interest in this new material for study was intense and the admiration for the author so great that he was generally styled "the philosopher. "
Law. A second rival, and in some places a more dangerous one, was the study of law. Roman law was taught in the eleventh century at several schools in southern France and Italy; possibly the most important center for its teaching was Ravenna, where the teachers were on the emperor's side in the investiture struggle. To counteract their influence the countess Matilda wished to establish a school that would take the papal side. Irnerius, her protege, began to lecture at Bologna on the Pandects toward the close of the eleventh century. He applied the dialectical method to the exposition of the Corpus, and endeavored to secure a better text and to interpret it literally. He had great success, and students flocked to hear him, just as a little later students gathered at Paris to hear Abelard, who was lecturing on the newly discovered portion of Aristotle's logic.
Privilege by Frederic I. The students who were not natives of the city were exposed to many dangers and disadvantages, both while traveling and while residing at Bologna or Paris or any other place. They had to have supplies sent from home, and their messengers were often robbed. If any dispute occurred between them and a citizen, the latter had the advantage in the local court. In 1158, Frederic I granted a privilege "to all scholars who traveled for the sake of study, and especially to the professors of divine and sacred laws.... They may go in safety," he said, "to the places in which the studies are carried on, both they themselves and their messengers and may dwell there in security.... In the future no one shall be so rash as to venture to inflict any injury on scholars or to occasion any loss to them on account of a debt owed by an inhabitant of their province.... If any one shall presume to bring a suit against them on account of any business, the choice in this matter shall be given to the scholars, who may summon the accusers to appear before their professors or the bishop of the city, to whom we have given jurisdiction in this matter." The last was especially important, as the penalties in the ecclesiastical courts were very light in comparison with those inflicted by lay courts.
Privilege from Philip Augustus. In the year 1200 Philip Augustus gave a similar privilege to the students at Paris. The grant was the outcome of a riot, followed by a fight between the students and the king's troops, in which the students had been defeated and some had been killed. They were greatly dissatisfied, and there was a probability that they would go elsewhere and that the schools would be deserted. Consequently Philip Augustus condemned his own official, who had put down the trouble, and gave the students full guarantees for the future. The most important privilege that he granted was freedom from arrest by royal officials unless a serious crime had been committed; in that case a student might be arrested but should immediately be handed over to an ecclesiastical judge. The chattels of the students were not to be confiscated in any case.
Privilege from Gregory IX. In 123I Pope Gregory IX published a statute that was looked upon as the Magna Carta of the University of Paris. The members of the university were granted the right of making "constitutions and ordinances regulating the manner and time of lectures and disputations, the costume to be worn, the burial of the dead; and also concerning the bachelors, who are to lecture and at what hours, and on what they are to lecture; and concerning the prices of the lodgings or the interdiction of the same; and concerning a fit punishment for those who violate your constitutions or ordinances, by exclusion from your society." "If the assessment of the lodgings is taken from you," the pope wrote "or anything else is lacking, or an injury or outrageous damage, 3 such as death or the mutilation of a limb, is inflicted on one of i you, unless through a suitable admonition satisfaction is rendered within fifteen days, you may suspend your lectures until you have received full satisfaction. And if it happens that any one of you is unlawfully imprisoned, unless the injury ceases on a remonstrance from you, you may, if you judge it expedient, suspend 1 your lectures immediately. "
Right of Migration. The last point deserves emphasis. By it the right of migration was recognized; that is, if the members of the university felt aggrieved they could leave the city and go elsewhere. It was very easy for them to remove to another city because the university had no buildings. All lectures were delivered in hired rooms. This custom of migration caused the rise of many new universities. Oxford received a great impetus by reason of the trouble of which the great charter of Gregory IX was the outcome, as of the students who left Paris in 1229 many had gone to Oxford. Later Oxford, in turn, was to suffer from a similar migration. Several Italian universities were founded by such withdrawals of students from Bologna during the thirteenth century.
Studium Generale. Armed with these privileges, schools developed their organization rapidly. But the term university was not used for them until much later; it meant originally "the members" of any group, and was applied indifferently to a learned corporation, a gild of artisans, soldiers on a crusade, or any other collective body: the restriction of it in later times to a particular kind of corporation was a mere accident. The original term for an academic institution was studium, qualified usually by generate or some similar adjective. The addition of generala meant that students from other countries were received. Owing to the special privileges granted to such studia, a more exact definition became necessary. According to Rashdall, three characteristics were connoted by the term at the end of the thirteenth or the beginning of the fourteenth century: first, as above, that it should receive, or at least invite, students from all parts; second, that it should contain one at least of the higher faculties; third, that there should be a plurality of masters.
Two Kinds of Universities. A university originally might be composed of the masters of arts, as at Paris, or of the students, as at Bologna. The masters at Paris formed themselves into a corporation similar to the gilds of artisans. Given the organizing spirit of the twelfth century, this was to be expected. The rise of the university of students may need more explanation. It arose at Bologna from the need felt by foreign students of association for protection. It was recognized by the municipal authorities, since it was in line with their previous ideas of legal rights and since it also afforded some kind | of police control over the unruly students. The professors at Bologna had felt no need of forming an organization. It is significant for an understanding of this corporation of students that, although a native of Bologna was free to attend lectures, he was not allowed to join the university. The students assumed more and more rights until they dictated to the professors, even regarding the subjects they were to teach, the pay they were to receive, and the costumes they were to wear.
Nations. The government of a stadium was in the hands of a double organization, the nations and the faculties. Students from the same country naturally came together for mutual protection and society. The English students at Paris would form a club. Those who came from a country that had only a few students at the stud sum affiliated themselves with others in like position. Gradually these associations grouped themselves together into a larger or smaller number of "nations." At Paris there were four: "the honorable nation of the Gauls," "the venerable nation of the Normans," "the very faithful nation of the Picards," "the very constant nation of the English." Each was subdivided into provinces, and in a "province" might be included men from many lands; e. g., in the province of Bourges were the Berrichon, Spanish, Italian, Egyptian, Syrian, Persian, and Armenian students who might be studying at Paris. At Bologna there were more "nations" than at Paris. Each one of the four at Paris had its own organization and had a key to one of the four locks of the chest that held the university funds, when there were any. The chest could be opened only when representatives of all four nations were present, so that each one of the locks could be unlocked.
Faculties. The faculties varied in the different universities. At Paris there were faculties of liberal arts, theology, medicine, and law; and the same was true of some of the other universities. The importance of the faculties varied at the different universities. In the government of each university, however, the faculty of arts was apt to be the strongest, because a student had to become a master in arts before he could proceed to further study. When he received the mastership he had to take an oath to obey the decrees of the faculty of arts. Consequently that faculty was usually able to control the university. But within the faculty of arts the nations had full control. Usually a rector was elected as the head of the university; in a university of masters, as at Paris, he would be a master; in a university of students, as at Bologna, he would be a student. Generally the term of office was short, but the power great; for the time being he represented the university.
The Faculty of Arts. A student had to begin with the course in liberal arts. There were no entrance examinations, but it was necessary to know Latin, the language in which the lectures were given. A student might be of any age; probably most of them were very young because, according to the statutes, it was necessary to study for at least six years before becoming a master, and no one could be a master before he was twenty. Logic was the principal study prescribed for those who wished for a license to teach. Not one classical author, except Aristotle, was included in the list of required subjects. But the Latin classics were taught and studied at Paris in the first third of the thirteenth century, after that they seem to have been entirely supplanted by the subjects that were considered more practical. The study of a subject that was not prescribed was possible, because the required studies would take only part of the time of a diligent student. Such a student probably attended three lectures a day, each two hours in length Unless he was wealthy he would not be able to afford to buy parchment on which to take notes, and consequently would be obliged to attempt to memorize the lectures. When he had studied the required length of time he would go to the chancellor to get permission to be examined. It is probable that the examinations were not a farce, because each student had to take an oath that if he failed in the examinations he would not use a dagger or a knife on the examiner. If successful he might be enrolled in the gild of masters, and he had to promise that he would lecture for at least two years, "unless he was prevented by some good reason." Many never E lectured at all, because they were engaged in study in one of the other faculties. Paris was especially noted for its training in the liberal arts, and later Oxford, which owed its importance very largely to the influx of students who came from Paris in 1229, also came to be known for its study of the liberal arts.
The Faculty of Law. Although the study of Roman law was for a time prohibited at Paris, it was carried on with the study of canon law, and seems to have been the more popular of the two. It furnished a ready means of earning a living in the service of some monarch. Some students aspired to the mastery of both the Roman and the canon law; it is significant that our common honorary degree to-day is LL.D. or J.U.D., Doctor of Laws or Doctor of Both Laws. The canon law was also in high favor at Paris, and second only to the Roman law. Many students in the law faculty, however, did not aspire to proficiency in the laws themselves, but were content with the more humble but lucrative study of the ars dictaminis, or ars notaria. This was the form the study of rhetoric had taken, and the ars dictaminis may be styled the complete art of letter writing. At Bologna, in particular, this was a favorite study, and the models used for letters were drawn chiefly from the writings sent out from the papal curia and the imperial chancery. Hence a knowledge of this art was especially useful in law matters and came to be known as the ars notaria. Skill in this branch of knowledge fitted a man for a lucrative profession. Bologna was the chief center for law studies, and was probably the first school that can properly be called a university. North of the Alps, Orleans was the most important law school.
The Faculty of Medicine. At the University of Paris the course in medicine was five and a half or six years in length. The text-books were either of Greek or Arabic origin, and Galen was the most famous of the authorities. Students were expected to listen at least three times to the most important of the books. There was little if any dissection of the human body practised in the thirteenth century, and knowledge of human anatomy was gained from text-books or from the study of the anatomy of animals, especially of pigs." The year 1300 is almost exactly the date for which we have the first definite evidence of the making of Human dissections, and the gradual development of anatomical investigation by this means in connection with the Italian universities." In the earlier centuries Salerno had been the chief center for medical studies and had numbered among its teachers many noted Mohammedan scholars. It continued to be important after Frederick II had incorporated it with the University of Naples, which he established in 1234. A few years later Frederick II issued a law regulating the practice of medicine in his kingdom of Sicily. This law required that a student, after a general training for three years must study medicine and surgery for three years, must practise under the guidance of an experienced physician, and must have a certificate that he had studied the anatomy of the human body, before he could obtain a license to practise independently. Montpellier was the most noted medical school north of the Alps. But medicine was a very popular study at other universities, because its practitioners could amass large fortunes. As one of the advocates of the liberal arts, who disliked the attention paid to medicine, wrote: "With the copper and silver which they receive for their poisons, they build them fine houses in Paris";" she [i.e., chirurgery] has such bold hands that she spares no one from whom she may be able to get money."
The Faculty of Theology. In the faculty of theology the book that was most studied was Peter Lombard's Book of Sentences. This received far greater attention than the Scriptures. The course lasted for eight years at the University of Paris, and early in the fourteenth century it was extended to fourteen years. A candidate for the doctorate had to be at least thirty-five years of age. While theology is commonly spoken of as the "queen of the sciences" and the seven liberal arts are termed its handmaidens, the faculties of theology did not enroll a very large number of students in the thirteenth century. Both law and medicine were more popular. A reputation as a canon lawyer might lead to advancement in the Church quite as rapidly as proficiency in theology. Paris was the great center for the study of theology.
License. Many students never aspired to become masters. Many preferred studies not included in the required curriculum. During the thirteenth century the sciences were probably the favorite subjects. They were usually called mathematics because they were all included in the quadrivium under either geometry or astronomy. These subjects were frowned upon by many of the clergy, and even Abelard called them "nefarious." John of Salisbury said, "mathematicians rashly predict the future "; and "the trivium discloses the secrets of discourse, the quadrivium discloses the secrets of nature." For this reason, the desire "to scrutinize the bosom of nature in its innermost recesses," men studied the sciences. The black art, which was thought of as a branch of mathematics, was taught by adepts from Toledo and Naples. Early in the thirteenth century the nature books of Aristotle were proscribed at the University of Paris, but in 1229 they were allowed to be read at the University of Toulouse and in 1254 they were prescribed in the course in the liberal arts at Paris. Many of Aristotle's writings on scientific subjects came to be known in the West by the middle of the thirteenth century, partly through Arabic translations, partly through translations from the Greek originals. It seems probable that some were brought back after the sack of Constantinople in 1204. Devotion to the sciences was condemned by some of the more strict churchmen, but in vain. The students believed that they could master the secrets of nature and they found in the writings of Aristotle a plausible explanation for many of the subjects in which they were most interested and which they most frequently discussed.
Each student was supposed to have a regular master under whom he studied. But he was almost left entirely to his own devices and there was little or no discipline. Many students were poor, and it was considered a charitable work to furnish them with food and lodging during their course of study. In order to do this colleges were founded. The most noted was Colleges the Sorbonne, founded by Robert of Sorbon about 1257. This was a building where the students roomed and had their meals and were under the charge of a master. The students recited their lessons to the master, dined in common, and formed a compact body. The number was restricted to sixteen, who must be masters in arts studying theology. This foundation suited the needs of the times, so elsewhere others followed the example of Robert, and colleges were soon established at all of the leading universities. In most the colleges have disappeared, but the ideal is still preserved in part at Oxford.
As there was no discipline maintained for the mass of students, and as they lived wherever they pleased and did as they pleased, the students formed an unruly body. They were not required to attend any lectures. Many of them never took an examination, as there were none except for the license to teach. They were of all ages from twelve to sixty or more. They were from all ranks of society; and those who were noblemen brought in their train numerous retainers. Men from the different nations frequently engaged in battle. "They wrangled and disputed not merely about the various sects or about some discussions; but the differences between the countries also caused dissensions, hatreds, and virulent animosities among them, and they impudently uttered all kinds of affronts and insults against one another. They affirmed that the English were drunkards and had tails; the sons of France proud, effeminate, and carefully adorned like women. They said that the Germans were furious and obscene at their feasts; the Normans, vain and boastful; the Poitevins, traitors and always adventurers. The Burgundians were considered vulgar and stupid. The Bretons were reputed to be fickle and changeable, and were often reproached for the death of Arthur. The Lombards were called avaricious, vicious, and cowardly; the Romans, seditious, turbulent, and slanderous; the Sicilians, tyrannical and cruel; the inhabitants of Brabant, men of blood, incendiaries, brigands, and ravishers; the Flemish, fickle, prodigal, gluttonous, yielding as butter, and slothful. After such insults from words they often came to blows."
Disorders. The students at Paris lived together on the left bank of the Seine, which came to be known as the "Latin quarter." There was great solidarity among the whole body, even if the students from different countries fought among themselves. When there was a town-and-gown row, all the students made common cause against the citizens. The latter tolerated and even welcomed the students to the city, because of the money that the students spent; but they never liked them. The students took advantage of their privileges and were often guilty of great excesses. They were impatient of all authority. The documents in the Chartularium show that the students were often extremely irreverent. In 1274 masters at the University of Paris had to issue a decree ordering that no student should shake dice on an altar in Notre-Dame while mass was being celebrated. As the masters said in explanation of their action, the custom of dice-shaking on the altar seemed to indicate some heretical pravity.
Errors. The question of heresy was an important one in the university. In their disputations the students frequently discussed heretical propositions. From time to time the masters were compelled to make a list of certain theses that could not be discussed, but these were discussed in spite of the repeated enactments. Among the errors that were condemned, students were ordered not to debate upon such statements as that "there never was a creation or a first man "; that "all sin is not forbidden "; that "there is no more blessed state than the study of philosophy "; that "all things done on this earth are governed by the heavenly bodies "; that "the world is eternal "; that "matter can not be created." Very many of the errors were drawn from the writings of Aristotle. But while some were led away by a study of the works of "the Philosopher," others sought to reconcile the Aristotelian doctrine with the orthodox teachings of the Church.
Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. The most noted scholars engaged in this task were two Dominicans, Albert the Great and his pupil, Thomas Aquinas. Each of these men did his most important teaching at Paris, during the reign of St. Louis. Albert attempted to rework the material in Aristotle's writings so that it would be useful to Christians, and to correct it so that it would conform to the dogmas of the Church. Thomas continued Albert's work, seeking to find the literal meaning in Aristotle's writings and, wherever possible, to show that it was not in contradiction to Christian dogma. At times even Thomas found this impossible and was forced to condemn some of the opinions held by "the Philosopher." The Summa Theologica of Thomas is the most important theological work of the Middle Ages, and is still held in the highest honor. Pope Leo XIII wrote in I899: "Is it necessary to add that the book par excellence in which students may with most profit study scholastic theology is the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas?"
Roger Bacon. From Aristotle, too, came much of the inspiration for the study of the sciences. Of these branches Roger Bacon, a Franciscan, stands out as the most conspicuous representative during the Middle Ages. Very unjustly, his reputation has almost eclipsed that of all the other scholars in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries who were interested in the natural sciences, although in the latter century there were many such students at the University of Paris. In praise of one, Peter of Maricourt, Bacon wrote: "What others strive to see dimly and blindly, like bats in twilight, he gazes at in the full light of day, because he is a master of experiment.... If philosophy is to be carried to its perfection and is to be handled with utility and certainty, his aid is indispensable. As for reward, he neither receives nor seeks it. If he frequented kings and princes, he would easily find those who would bestow on him honor and wealth. Or, if in Paris he would display the results of his researches, the whole world would follow him. But since either of these courses would hinder him from pursuing the great experiments in which he delights, he puts honor and wealth aside." In his writings Bacon insists that truth can be obtained only by observation and experiment. He says: "Experimental science controls the conclusions of all the other sciences; it reveals truths which reasoning from general principles would never have discovered; finally, it starts us on the way to marvelous inventions which will change the face of the world." Bacon's most important works, the Opus Majus, Opus Minus, and Opus Tertiary, were written at the request of the pope. It is interesting to note that Bacon says: "I confess that there are several men who can present to your wisdom in a better way than I can these very subjects of which I treat." In fact, Bacon was not an isolated genius, but one of a considerable number of scholars who were trying to discover "the secrets of nature. "
Spirit of Students. The interest in the natural sciences was one indication of the spirit that prevailed in the thirteenth-century universities. Cardinal Jacques de Vitry, in his harsh criticism of the students, charges that "almost all the students at Paris desire to learn or hear something new." This desire caused thousands of young men from all parts of Europe to undergo hardships and dangers in order to be students. Universities sprang up rapidly in Italy, France, England, and Spain. The numbers at these universities can not be ascertained accurately. One contemporary states that there were thirty thousand at Paris. Rashdall thinks that there may have been as many as six or seven thousand at Paris and Bologna; from fifteen hundred to three thousand at Oxford; two thousand at Toulouse; and fewer at the other universities.
Popes and Universities. It was very important for the Church to have the support of these universities. The popes placed them directly under papal control wherever possible, and vied with the kings in granting them privileges. They freed them from the control of the chancellor, ordering him to grant to all competent candidates the license to teach. They favored the students even against the bishops. All students north of the Alps were considered members of the clergy, and many of them looked forward to careers in the Church; some rose to the highest ranks, as bishops, cardinals, and popes.
Student Songs. Yet in their songs the students criticized the Church and its officials in the harshest manner. No rank was safe from their gibes. They described the pope and the cardinals as greedy for gold. They ridiculed the monks. Many of their songs are too irreverent to be quoted here. Their parodies of the gospels were outrageous in thought and language. Here, too, the students showed the same license as in their deeds. The songs also portray their favorite amusements. Many have wine as their theme. Drinking was universal even among the "good boys " for whom Robert of Sorbon founded his college. No feast or other celebration took place without a great deal of wine-drinking. The students had none of the amusements and sports that are now common among students, and their free time was spent mainly in fighting, drinking, or wandering about the country. The wandering students formed a very large proportion of the whole number in summer-time. Frequently the courses were planned so as to close at Easter-time, when the weather became warm enough to enjoy life out of doors. Then the students left their unheated damp lodgings, where they had been herded together, and took to the open road. Their songs depict their delight in the month of May and in the country. They sang blithely of the dance on the village green, of the shepherdesses, of the joy and zest in the life of a goliard, or wandering student.