Jacques Maritain Center : Greatest of Centuries


To see, at once, how well the Thirteenth deserves the name of the greatest of centuries, it is necessary, only, to open the book of her deeds and read therein what was accomplished during this period for the education of the men of the time. It is, after all, what a generation accomplishes for intellectual development and social uplift that must be counted as its greatest triumph. If life is larger in its opportunities, if men appreciate its significance better, if the development of the human mind has been rendered easier, if that precious thing, whose name, education, has been so much abused, is made readier of attainment, then the generation stamps itself as having written down in its book of deeds, things worthy for all subsequent generations to read. Though anything like proper appreciation of it has come only in very recent times, there is absolutely no period of equal length in the history of mankind in which so much was not only attempted, but successfully accomplished for education, in every sense of the word, as during the Thirteenth Century. This included, not only the education of the classes but also the education of the masses.

For the moment, we shall concern ourselves only with the education offered to, and taken advantage of by so many, in the universities of the time. It was just at the beginning of the Thirteenth Century that the great universities came into being as schools, in which all the ordinary forms of learning were taught. During the Twelfth Century, Bologna had had a famous school of law which attracted students from all over Europe. Under Irnerius, canon and civil law secured a popularity as subjects of study such as they never had before. The study of the old Roman Law brought back with it an interest in the Latin classics, and the beginning of the true new birth -- the real renaissance -- of modern education must be traced from here. At Paris there was a theological school attached to the cathedral which gradually became noted for its devotion to philosophy as the basis of theology, and, about the middle of the Twelfth Century, attracted students from every part of the civilized world. As was the case at Bologna, interest after a time was not limited to philosophy and theology; other branches of study were admitted to the curriculum and a university in the modern sense came into existence.

During the first quarter of the Thirteenth Century both of these schools developed faculties for the teaching of all the known branches of knowledge. At Bologna faculties of arts, of philosophy and theology, and finally of medicine, were gradually added, and students flocked in ever increasing numbers to take advantage of these additional opportunities. At Paris, the school of medicine was established early in the Thirteenth Century, and there were graduates in medicine before the year 1220. Law came later, but was limited to Canon law to a great extent, Orleans having a monopoly of civil law for more than a century. These two universities, Bologna and Paris, were, in every sense of the word, early in the century, real universities, differing in no essential from our modern institutions that bear the same name.

If the Thirteenth Century had done nothing else but put into shape this great instrument for the training of the human mind, which has maintained its effectiveness during seven centuries, it must be accorded a place among the epoch-making periods of history. With all our advances in modern education we have not found it necessary, or even advisable, to change, in any essential way, this mold in which the human intellect has been cast for all these years. If a man wants knowledge for its own sake, or for some practical purpose in life, then here are the faculties which will enable him to make a good beginning on the road he wishes to travel. If he wants knowledge of the liberal arts, or the consideration of man's duties to himself, to his fellow-man and to his Creator, he will find in the faculties of arts and philosophy and theology the great sources of knowledge in these subjects. If, on the other hand, he wishes to apply his mind either to the disputes of men about property, or to their injustices toward one another and the correction of abuses, then the faculty of law will supply his wants, and finally the medical school enables him, if he wishes, to learn all that can be known at a given time with regard to man's ills and their healing. We have admitted the practical-work subjects into university life, though not without protest, but architecture, engineering, bridge-building and the like, in which the men of the Thirteenth Century accomplished such wonders, were relegated to the guilds whose technical schools, though they did not call them by that name, were quite as effective practical educators as even the most vaunted of our modern university mechanical departments.

It is rather interesting to trace the course of the development of schools in our modern sense of the term, because their evolution recapitulates, to some degree at least, the history of the individual's interest in life. The first school which acquired a European reputation was that of Salernum, a little town not far from Naples, which possessed a famous medical school as early as the ninth century, perhaps earlier. This never became a university, though its reputation as a great medical school was maintained for several centuries. This first educational opportunity to attract a large body of students from all over the world concerned mainly the needs of the body. The next set of interests which man, in the course of evolution develops, has to do with the acquisition and retention of property and the maintenance of his rights as an individual. It is not surprising. then, to find that the next school of world-wide reputation was that of law at Bologna which became the nucleus of a great university. It is only after man has looked out for his bodily needs and his property rights, that he comes to think of his duties toward himself, his fellow-men, and his Creator, and so the third of these great medieval schools, in time, was that of philosophy and theology, at Paris.

It is sometimes thought that the word university applied to these institutions after the aggregation of other faculties, was due to the fact that there was a universality of studies, that all branches of knowledge might be followed in them. The word university, however, was not originally applied to the school itself, which, if it had all the faculties of the modern university, was, in the Thirteenth Century, called a studium generale. The Latin word universitas had quite a different usage at that time. Whenever letters were formally addressed to the combined faculties of a studium generale by reigning sovereigns, or by the Pope, or by other high ecclesiastical authorities, they always began with the designation, Universitas Vestra, implying that the greeting was to all of the faculty, universally and without exception. Gradually, because of this word constantly occurring at the beginning of letters to the faculty, the term universitas came to be applied to the institution.

[Certain other terms that occur in these letters of greeting to university officials have a more than passing interest. The rector of the university, for instance, was always formally addressed as Amplitudo Vestra, that is, Your Ampleness. Considering the fact that not a few of the rectors of the old time universities all of whom were necessarily ecclesiastics, must have had the ampleness of girth so characteristic of their order under certain circumstances, there is an appropriateness about this formal designation which perhaps appeals more to the risibilities of the modern mind than to those of medieval time.]

While the universities, as is typically exemplified by the histories of Bologna and Paris, and even to a noteworthy degree of Oxford, grew up around the cathedrals, they cannot be considered in any sense the deliberate creation, much less the formal invention, of any particular set of men. The idea of a university was not born into the world in full panoply as Minerva from the brain of Jove. No one set about consciously organizing for the establishment of complete institutions of learning. Like everything destined to mean much in the world the universities were a natural growth from the favoring soil in which living seeds were planted. They sprang from the wonderful inquiring spirit of the time and the marvelous desire for knowledge and for the higher intellectual life that came over the people of Europe during the Thirteenth Century. The school at Paris became famous, and attracted pupils during the Twelfth Century, because of the new-born interest in scholastic philosophy. After the pupils had gathered in large numbers their enthusiasm led to the establishment of further courses of study. The same thing was true at Bologna, where the study of Law first attracted a crowd of earnest students, and then the demand for broader education led to the establishment of other faculties.

Above all, there was no conscious attempt on the part of any supposed better class to stoop down and uplift those presumably below it. As we shall see, the students of the university came mainly from the middle class of the population. They became ardently devoted to their teachers. As in all really educational work, it was the man and not the institution that counted for much. In case of disagreement of one of these with the university authorities, not infrequently there was a sacrifice of personal advantage for the moment on the part of the students in order to follow a favorite teacher. Paris had examples of this several times before the Thirteenth Century, and notably in the case of Abelard had seen thousands of students follow him into the distant desert where he had retired.

Later on, when abuses on the part of the authorities of Paris limited the University's privileges, led to the withdrawal of students and the foundation of Oxford, there was a community of interest on the part of certain members of the faculty and thousands of students. This movement was, however, distinctly of a popular character, in the sense that it was not guided by political or other leaders. Nearly all of the features of university life during the Thirteenth Century, emphasize the democracy of feeling of the students, and make it clear that the blowing of the wind of the spirit of human liberty and intellectual enthusiasm influencing the minds of the generation, rather than any formal attempt on the part of any class of men deliberately to provide educational opportunities, is the underlying feature of university foundation and development.

While the great universities of Paris, Bologna, and Oxford were, by far, the most important, they must not be considered as the only educational institutions deserving the name of universities, even in our modern sense, that took definite form during the Thirteenth Century. In Italy, mainly under the fostering care of ecclesiastics, encouraged by such Popes as Innocent III, Gregory IX, and Honorius IV, nearly a dozen other towns and cities saw the rise of Studia Generalia eventually destined, and that within a few decades after their foundation, to have the complete set of faculties, and such a number of teachers and of students as merited for them the name of University. Very early in the century Vicenza, Reggio, and Arezzo became university towns. Before the first quarter of the century was finished there were universities at Padua, at Naples, and at Vercelli. In spite of the troublous times and the great reduction in the population of Rome there was a university founded in connection with the Roman Curia, that is the Papal Court, before the middle of the century, and Siena and Piacenza had founded rival university institutions. Perugia had a famous school which became a complete university early in the Fourteenth Century.

Nor were other countries much behind Italy in this enthusiastic movement. Montpelier had, for over a century before the beginning of the thirteenth, rejoiced in a medical school which was the most important rival of that at Salernum. At the beginning this reflected largely the Moorish element in educational affairs in Europe at this time. During the course of the Thirteenth Century Montpelier developed into a full-fledged university though the medical school still continued to be the most important faculty. Medical students from all over the world flocked to the salubrious town to which patients from all over were attracted, and its teachers and writers of medicine have been famous in medical history ever since. How thorough was the organization of clinical medical work at Montpelier may perhaps best be appreciated from the fact, noted in the chapter on City Hospitals -- Organized Charity, that when Pope Innocent III. wished to establish a model hospital at Rome with the idea that it would form an exemplar for other European cities, he sent down to Montpelier and summoned Guy, the head of the Hospital of the Holy Ghost in that city, to the Papal Capital to establish the Roman Hospital of the Holy Ghost and, in connection with it, a large number of hospitals all over Europe.

A corresponding state of affairs to that of Montpelier is to be noted at Orleans, Only here the central school, around which the university gradually grouped itself, was the Faculty of Civil Law. Canon law was taught at Paris in connection with the theological course, but there had always been objection to the admission of civil law as a faculty on a basis of equality with the other faculties. There was indeed at this time some rivalry between the civil and the canon law and so the study of civil law was relegated to other universities. Even early in the Twelfth Century Orleans was famous for its school of civil law in which the exposition of the principles of the old Roman law constituted the basis of the university course. During the Thirteenth Century the remaining departments of the university gradually developed, so that by the close of the century, there seem to be conservative claims for over one thousand students. Besides these three, French universities were also established at Angers, at Toulouse, and the beginnings of institutions to become universities early in the next century are recorded at Avignon and Cahors.

Spain felt the impetus of the university movement early in the Thirteenth Century and a university was founded at Palencia about the end of the first decade. This was founded by Alfonso XII. and was greatly encouraged by him. It is sometimes said that this university was transferred to Salamanca about 1230, but this is denied by Denifle, whose authority in matters of university history is unquestionable. It seems not unlikely that Salamanca drew a number of students from Palencia but that the latter continued still to attract many students. About the middle of the Thirteenth Century the university of Valladolid was founded. Before the end of the century a fourth university, that of Lerida, had been established in the Spanish peninsula. Spain was to see the greatest development of universities during the Fourteenth Century. It was not long after the end of the Thirteenth Century before Coimbra, in Portugal, began to assume importance as an educational institution, though it was not to have sufficient faculty and students to deserve the more ambitious title of university for half a century.

While most people who know anything about the history of education realize the important position occupied by the universities during the Thirteenth Century and appreciate the estimation in which they were held and the numbers that attended them, very few seem to know anything of the preparatory schools of the time, and are prone to think that all the educational effort of these generations was exhausted in connection with the university. It is often said, as we shall see, that one reason for the large number of students reported as in attendance at the universities during the Thirteenth Century is to be found in the fact that these institutions practically combined the preparatory school and the academy of our time with the university. The universities are supposed to have been the only centers of education worthy of mention. There is no doubt that a number of quite young students were in attendance at the universities, that is, boys from 12 to 15 who would in our time be only in the preparatory school. We shall explain, however, in the chapter on the Numbers in Attendance at the Universities that students went to college much younger in the past and graduated much earlier than they do in our day, yet apparently, without any injury to the efficacy of their educational training.

In the universities of Southern Europe it is still the custom for boys to graduate with the degree of A. B. at the age of 15 to 16, which supposes attendance at the university, or its equivalent in undergraduate courses, at the age of 12 or even less. There is no need, however, to appeal to the precociousness of the southern nations in explanation of this, since there are some good examples of it in comparatively recent times here in America. Most of the colleges in this country, in the early part of the nineteenth century and the end of the eighteenth, graduated young men of 16 and 17 and thought that they were accomplishing a good purpose, in allowing them to get at their life work in early manhood. Many of the distinguished divines who made names in educational work are famous for their early graduations. Dr. Benjamin Rush, of Philacielphia whom the medical profession of this country hails as the Father of American Medicine, graduated at Princeton at 15. He must have begun his college course, therefore, about the age of 12. This may be considered inadvisable in our generation, but, it must be remembered that there are many even in our day, who think that our college men are allowed to get at their life-work somewhat too late for their own good.

It must be emphasized moreover, that in many of the university towns there were also preparatory schools. Courses were not regularly organized until well on in the Thirteenth Century, but younger brothers and friends of students as well as of professors would not infrequently be placed under their care and thus be enabled to receive their preparation for university work. At Paris, Robert Sorbonne founded a preparatory school for that institution under the name of the College of Calvi. Other colleges of this kind also existed in Paris. This custom of having a preparatory school in association with the university has not been abandoned even in our own day, and it has some decided advantages from an educational standpoint, though perhaps these are not enough to balance certain ethical disadvantages almost sure to attach to such a system, disadvantages which ultimately led in the Middle Ages to the prohibition that young students should be taken at the universities under any pretext.

The presence of these young students in university towns probably did add considerably to the numbers reported as in attendance. It must not be thought, however, that there were no formal preparatory schools quite apart from university influence. This thought has been the root of more misunderstanding of the medieval system of education than almost any other. As a matter of fact there were preliminary and preparatory schools, what we would now call academies and colleges, in connection with all of the important monasteries and with every cathedral. Schools of less importance were required by a decree of a council held at the beginning of the Thirteenth Century to be maintained in connection with every bishop's church. During the Thirteenth Century there were some twenty cathedrals in various parts of England; each one had its cathedral school. Besides these there were at least as many important abbeys, nearly a dozen of them immense institutions, in which there were fine libraries, large writing rooms, in which copies of books were being constantly made, many of the members of the communities of which were university men, and around which, therefore, there clung an atmosphere of bookishness and educational influence that made them preparatory schools of a high type. The buildings themselves were of the highest type of architecture; the community life was well calculated to bring out what was best in the intellectuality of members of the community, and, then, there was a rivalry between the various religious orders which made them prepare their men well in order that they might do honor to the order when they had the opportunity later, as most of those who had the ability and the taste actually did have, to go to one or other of the universities.

This system of preparatory schools need not be accepted on the mere assumption that the monasteries and churches must surely have set about soch work, because there is abundant evidence of the actual establishment and maintenance of such schools. With regard to the monasteries there can be no doubt, because it was the members of the religious orders who particularly distinguished themselves at the universities, and the histories of Oxford, Cambridge, and Paris are full of their accomplishments. They succeeded in obtaining the right to have their own houses at the universities and to have their own examinations count in university work, in order that they might maintain their influence over the members of the orders during the precious formative period of their intellectual life. With regard to the church schools there is convincing evidence of another kind.

In the chapter on the foundation of City Hospitals we have detailed on the authority of Virchow all that Innocent III. accomplished for the hospital system of Europe. This chapter was published originally in the form of a lecture from the historical department of the Medical School of Fordham University and a reprint of it was sent to a distinguished American educator well known for his condemnation of supposed church intolerance in the matter of education and scientific development. He said that he was glad to have it because it confirmed and even broadened the idea that he had long cherished, that the Church had done more for Charity during the despised Middle Ages than national governments had ever been able to accomplish since, though it was all the more surprising to him that it should not have under the circumstances, done more for education, since this might have prevented some of the ills that charity had afterward to relieve. This expression very probably represents the state of mind of very many scholars with regard to this period The Church is supposed to have interested herself in charity almost to the exclusion of educational influence. Charity is of course admitted to be her special work, yet these scholars cannot help but regret that more was not done in social prophylaxis by the encouragement of education. In the light of this almost universal expression it is all the more interesting to find that such opinions are founded entirely on a lack of knowledge of what was done in education, since the same Pope, in practically the same way and by the exertion of the same prestige and ecclesiastical authority, did for education just what he did for charity in the matter of the hospitals and the ailing poor. Virchow, as we shall see, declared that to Innocent III. is due the foundation of practically all the city hospitals in Europe. If the effect of certain of the decrees issued in his papacy be carefully followed, it will be found that practically as many schools as hospitals owe their origin to his beneficent wisdom and his paternal desire to spread the advantages of Christianity all over the civilized world. This policy with regard to the hospitals led to the foundation before the end of the century of at least one hospital in every diocese of all the countries which were more closely allied with the Holy See. There is extant a decree issued by the famous council of Lateran, in 1215, a council in which Innocent's authority was dominant, requiring the establishment of a Chair of Grammar in connection with every cathedral in the Christian world. This Chair of Grammar included at least three of the so-called liberal arts and provided for what would now be called the education of a school preparatory to a university.

Before this, Innocent III,{1} who had himself received the benefit of the best education of the time, having spent some years at Rome and later at Paris and at Bologna, had encouraged the sending of students to these universities in every way. Bishops who came to Rome were sure to hear inculcated the advisability of a taste for letters in clergymen, hear it said often enough that such a taste would surely increase the usefulness of all churchmen. Schools had been encouraged before the issuance of the decree. This only came as a confirmatory document calculated to perpetuate the policy that had already been so prominently in vogue in the church for over fifteen years of the Pope's reign. It was meant, too, to make clear to hesitant and tardy bishops, who might have thought that the papal interest in education was merely personal, that the policy of the church was concerned in it and recalled them to a sense of duty in the matter, since the ordinary enthusiasm for letters, even with the added encouragement of the Pope, did not suffice to make them realize the necessity for educational establishments.

The institution of the schools of grammar in connection with cathedrals was well adapted to bring about a definite increase in the opportunities for book learning for those who desired it. In connection with the cathedrals there was always a band of canons whose duty it was to take part in the singing of the daily office. Their ceremonial and ritual duties did not, however, occupy them more than a few hours each day. During the rest of the time they were free to devote themselves to any subject in which they might be interested and had ample time for teaching. The requirement that there should be at least a school of grammar in connection with every cathedral afforded definite opportunity to such of these ecclesiastics as had intellectual tastes to devote themselves to the spread of knowledge and of culture, and this reacted, as can be readily understood, to make the whole band of canons more interested in the things of the mind, and to make the cathedral even more the intellectual center of the district than might otherwise have been the case.

For the metropolitan churches a more far-reaching regulation was made by this same council of Lateran under the inspiration of the Pope himself. These important Archiepiscopal cathedrals were required to maintain professors of three chairs. One of these was to teach grammar, a second philosophy, and a third canon law. Under these designations there was practically included much of what is now studied not only in preparatory schools but also at the beginning of University courses. The regulation was evidently intended to lead eventually to the formation of many more universities than were then in existence, because already it had become clear that the traveling of students to long distances and their gathering in such large numbers in towns away from home influences, led to many abuses that might be obviated if they could stay in their native cities, or at least did not have to leave their native provinces. This was a far-seeing regulation that, like so many other decrees of the century, manifests the very practical policy of the Pope in matters of education as well as charity. As a matter of fact this decree did lead to the gradual development of about twenty universities during the Thirteenth Century, and to the establishment of a number of other schools so important in scope and attendance that their evolution into universities during the Fourteenth Century became comparatively easy. This formal church law, moreover, imposed upon ecclesiastical authorities the necessity for providing for even higher education in their dioceses and made them realize that it was entirely in sympathy with the church's spirit and in accord with the wish of the Father of Christendom, that they should make as ample provision for education as they did for charity, though this last was supposed to be their special task as pastors of the Christian flock.

All this important work for the foundation of preparatory schools in every diocese and of the preliminary organization of teaching institutions that might easily develop into universities, as they actually did in a score of cases in metropolitan cities, was accomplished under the first Pope of the Thirteenth Century, Innocent III. His successors kept up this good work. Pope Honorious III., his immediate successor, went so far in this matter as to depose a bishop who had not read Donatus, the popular grammarian of the time. The bishop evidently was considered unfit, as far as his mental training went, to occupy the important post of head of a diocese. Pope Gregory IX., the nephew of Innocent III., was one of the most important patrons of the study of law in this period (see Legal Origins in Other Countries), and encouraged the collection of the decrees of former Popes so as to make them available for purposes of study as well as for court use. He is famous for having protected the University of Paris during some of the serious trouble with the municipal authorities, when the large increase of the number of students in attendance at the University had unfortunately brought about strained relations between town and gown.

Pope Innocent IV. by several decrees encouraged the development of the University of Paris, increased its rights and conferred new privileges. He also did much to develop the University of Toulouse, and especially to raise its standard and make it equal to that of Paris as far as possible. The patronage of Toulouse on the part of the Pope is all the more striking because the study of civil law was here a special feature and the ecclesiastical authorities were often said to have looked askance at the rising prominence of civil law, since it threatened to diminish the importance of canon law; and the cultivation of it, only too frequently, seemed to give rise to friction between civil and ecclesiastical authorities. While the pontifical court of Innocent IV. was maintained at Lyons it seemed, according to the Literary History of France,{2} more like an academy of theology and of canon law than the court of a great monarch whose power was acknowledged throughout the world, or a great ecclesiastic who might be expected to be occupied with details of Church government.

Succeeding Popes of the century were not less prominent in their Patronage of education. Pope Alexander IV. supported the cause of the Mendicant Friars against the University of Paris, but this was evidently with the best of intentions. The mendicants came to claim the privilege of having houses in association with the university in which they might have lectures for the members of their orders, and asked for due allowance in the matter of degrees for courses thus taken. The faculty of the University did not want to grant this privilege. though it was acknowledged that some of the best professors In the University were members of the Mendicant orders, and we need only mention such names as Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas from the Dominicans, and St. Bonaventure, Roger Bacon and Duns Scotus from the Franciscans, to show the truth of this assertion. To give such a privilege seemed a derogation of the faculty rights and the University refused. Then the Holy See interfered to insist that the University must give degrees for work done, rather than merely for regulation attendance. The best possible proof that Pope Alexander cannot be considered as wishing to injure or even diminish the prestige of the University in any way, is to be found in the fact that he afterwards sent two of his nephews to Paris to attend at the University.

All these Popes, so far mentioned, were not Frenchmen and therefore could have no national feeling in the matter of the University of Paris or of the French universities in general. It is not surprising to find that Pope Urban IV., who was a Frenchman and an alumnus of the University of Paris, elevated many French scholars, and especially his fellow alumni of Paris, to Church dignitaries of various kinds. After Urban IV., Nicholas IV. who succeeded him, though once more an Italian, founded chairs in the University of Montpelier, and also a professorship in a school that it was hoped would develop into a university at Gray in Franche Comte. In a word, looked at from every point of view, it must be admitted that the Church and ecclesiastical authorities were quite as much interested in education as in charity during this century, and it is to them that must be traced the foundation of the preparatory schools, as well as the universities, and the origin and development of the great educational movement that stamps this century as the greatest in human history.

{1} Most of the details of what was accomplished for education by Pope Innocent III, and all the references needed to supply further information, can be found in the Histoire Litteratire de la France, recent volumes of which were issued by the French Institute, though the magnificent work itself was begun by Benedictines of St. Maur, who completed some fifteen volumes. The sixteenth volume, most of which is written by Dañou, is especially valuable for this period. Du Boulay, in his History of the University of Paris, will furnish additional information with regard to Pope Innocent's relations to education throughout europe, especially, of course, in what regards the University of Paris.

{2} Histoire Litteratire de la France, Vol. XVI, Introductory Discourse.

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