(The complete text of my SCA Compleat Anachronist, from January 1996)

THL Isabelle de Foix





Many people are under the mistaken notion that everyone in the Middle Ages was illiterate and uneducated. This is a misconception if there ever was one.  Universities, the institutionalization of higher learning, are some of our greatest legacies from the Middle Ages.  They gave great teachers a chance to share their knowledge with others, something that universities are still doing. They exalted knowledge, reversing the anti-intellectualism of the early Middle Ages. How did these institutions come into being in the first place? No one pulled them out of their hennin. They developed slowly but surely in Bologna, Paris, Pavia, Padua, and Oxford. These schools all had their own historical roots, their own corporate structure, and their own curriculum.  Paris became renowned for its theology faculty, and the schools of northern Italy became known as law schools, revivers of their own tradition, Roman law. Bologna, although only one of many northern Italian law schools, attracted the greatest legal scholars of the day. Paris was the most prestigious school north of the Alps during the thirteenth century; Bologna was one of the, if not the oldest, educational institution in Europe, having its roots in the ancient Roman educational system. The history of the development of the school at Bologna is not well documented due to the loss of its statues from the first half of the thirteenth century, but its importance as a school of Roman law made it one of Europe’s most important educational institutions. So what is known of it, as well as the circumstances that made it important, is chronicled here. The development of the school at Paris is very well documented; thus, we have much more information about it. All of this is my work. Unfortunately, the footnotes and bibliography didn’t make it onto my HTML copy, which is the only copy I have on file.






Before 1100 no European country had an organized legal system. The governments of Europe had heir hands tied with the limitations and disputes among various primitive Germanic legal traditions. During the early Middle Ages, in the centuries following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe was racked with social and political instability. In the Mediterranean world Germanic legal traditions clashed with the meager remains of Roman law. In northern Europe feudal traditions were ridden with confusion and contradictions. Unwritten and imprecise, these legal traditions needed no trained lawyers. All of the powers of justice belonged to the village elders or the lord of the manor. Even the educators of the early Middle Ages considered law to be merely a branch of rhetoric. Around the end of the eleventh century, European society became more stable as it moved toward more centralization of governments and a money economy. This trend mandated codification of clear, concise laws; the governments of Europe desired to overhaul their legal system. However, the work involved in devising new legal codes was staggering. At this point a most convenient discovery occurred; a copy of the Corpus Juris Civilis, also known as the Code of Justinian, turned up in northern Italy. This was an immense summary of the laws of all of Rome’s greatest emperors, dating from the early sixth century. It is not known how the Code got to Italy; most likely northern Italian merchants who traded in Constantinople brought it back when they returned to Italy. Scholars began to study the Code with an intensity equal to its importance to a society in legal chaos. Governments in Europe needed people trained in this code to organize their new legal systems that would supersede the archaic Germanic codes. Scholars who had mastered the Code began to share their knowledge in this fast-growing field. The legal profession had been born, and with it, law schools like those of Bologna, Milan, and Ravenna.

No one is quite sure when the school of Bologna came into existence. It is believed that the schools of northern Italy had been founded while Italy was part of the Roman Empire, and had never ceased to exist. The increasing social stability of the late eleventh century was of enormous benefit to all of the towns of Europe. By the twelfth century the cities of Italy were bustling with activity. The city of Bologna, an ancient Roman municipia that had survived the Germanic invasions of Italy, first got recognition by being on the road that pilgrims from north of the Alps took on their way to Rome. It only acquired prominence, however, with the rise of its school of law in the late eleventh century. The Code of Justinian had a particular attraction for Italian scholars, who took immense pride in their land’s classical traditions. However, the new law schools mainly came into being because of the pressing need for professional lawyers. Bologna was the oldest law school in northern Italy, and the other schools deferred to it.

At this point in time, Italy was divided up into city-states, each with its own ruler. Citizenship in these small political entities was of paramount importance, since this insured that they would have the privileges granted to citizens, as well as protection by the laws of the city-state. Foreigners living in them did not have these privileges and were considered to be living under the laws of their native lands. The great majority of students at Bologna were not citizens of Bologna. The reputation of their first great professor, Guarnerius, had drawn students from France, England, and Germany. These were French citizens, English subjects, and citizens of the various duchies, electorates and principalities of the Holy Roman Empire, which made up what is now Germany. Since these students were law students and their school was not under the control of the Church, they could not be classified as “clerics” as were the students at Paris. Consequently, they had no special protection as members of the clergy. In 1158 the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I, issued a decree, “Authentica habita”, which guaranteed imperial protection for anyone traveling in Italy for academic reasons.  These students needed to group together to protect each other; they wanted justice administered among themselves, and thought it only proper that this should be administered by a compatriot. In this age everyone was forming guilds; the students at Bologna organized into “nations”, (the word is from the Latin “nation”, meaning “place of birth”). Unfortunately, the documentation of these organizations at Bologna has been lost to history, as no university statues from the first half of the thirteenth century have survived. Documentation from other sources, however, reveals that the nations eventually merged into two groups. The “Cismontane”, or “this side of the mountains consisted of Italian students, and the “Ultramontane”, or “the other side of the Mountains” were the students from north of the Alps.

Bologna, of course, was a city-state. It was ruled by a council with 600 members, the Credenza, and a lord mayor, Il Podesta. The city officials felt threatened by the growing power of the nations; they feared the nations could become powerful enough to undermine the powers of the Credenza and the lord mayor. Meanwhile, the students took control of the school from its professors, or masters. The masters of laws (universitas magistrorum Bonoiensis) were required to be citizens of Bologna, and they had honorary seats in the Credenza. In 1216 the Credenza required the students to swear others of allegiance to the city, rather than the rectors of their nations. Angered, the students left town, with the blessings of the Pope, Honorius III, who issued a statement on 27 May 1217 encouraging the students to leave Bologna. This was called the “Great Dispersion” and it left Bologna with no school for three years. It was during this period that studia appeared in other cities, such as Padua, made up of the dispersed students. The Credenza tried to lure the students back, and in 1220 some of them returned.

At first the masters depended on their livelihoods on fees paid them by their students. These fees were determined by collective bargaining between the masters and the students. The city stopped this and started paying the masters fixed salaries, making them employees of the city. The students made a number of rules that the masters were required to follow. The masters had to swear loyalty to the student rectors and agree to abide by all of the rules made by them. One rule the masters no doubt rather frequently broke was the rule against starting his teaching even a minute too late or continuing to teach beyond his allotted time. The professor was fined if he failed to make a point clearly or if he fell short of getting through the class syllabus in the allotted time period of the course. He was also fined if he left the city for a day without the permission of the rectors; if he got married, he was allowed only one day to do this.  Some of the rules the masters had to follow were issued by the city, since they were salaried employees of the city. The city required the masters to take a solemn oath not to leave Bologna in search of more lucrative or easier jobs. The students could fire a professor by boycotting his classes, and, as noted above, they could disperse, go to other cities, and start their own school there.




Bologna required the applicant to its law school to have a liberal arts background; law, like theology and medicine, was a “higher study” and the liberal arts were preliminary for admission to a law school like Bologna or a theology school like Paris. The liberal arts in the Middle Ages were grouped into rhetoric, grammar, logic, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. Bologna never taught theology; this continued to be taught strictly in the city’s monastic schools. Unfortunately, there is very little documentation of Bologna’s liberal arts program. The school at Bologna always had a practical nature; not for them the abstract theorizing of the nature of God that was done in Paris. At the stadium in Bologna, the liberal arts were considered practical knowledge students had to acquire before they could master law. The student at Bologna was required to complete the liberal arts course before proceeding to the study of law.  Later, “higher studies” of medicine and “ars notaria” came into being. The ars notoria connected the literary with the legal; it trained students a carefully crafted style of writing called the dictamen, which was used in official acts and notarial work.

The first master of laws at Bologna was Guarnerius, who died around 1125. He was probably the first teacher to use the Code of Justinian in its entirety as a textbook. This Code was compiled in the sixth century of our era. By this time Roman law itself had gotten chaotic because it had relied on precedent since the eighth century B.C. E; it had never been written down before the Emperor Justinian employed several groups of legal scholars to make Roman law clear and precise. The resulting Code had four parts, and together, they made up the Corpus juris Civilis. Guarnerius also wrote commentaries on the texts he read his students. These started out as notes for commentary that he did in his classes; he would have written the notes around the text in the margins. In time he would have written entire books of this commentary, combined with research from four main sources, the Bible, Aristotle, Boethius, and other writers of glosses, called glossators. The books were called glosses, or in Latin, glossae. These served various functions for law masters and students; they became notes for orally presented lectures or they could be used by later scholars for research.

With the inspiration that Guarnerius had provided his work was continued. Generation after generation of masters worked with the Code of Justinian, doing their own glosses to teach their students. These glosses proliferated until they were put together in texts called apparatuses. Several of these were put together into one great compilation called the Glossa ordinaria by a scholar named Accursius the Glossator (died 1263). This work became the standard text for every law school in Western Europe because it was such a comprehensive and complete compilation. It was printed on the printing presses in Europe between 1468 and 1627. Guarnerius and his posterity had an extraordinary impact on Western Europe; government after government stabilized their legal codes with their teachings. The only countries in Europe that did not adopt the Code as the basis of its law were those of the British Isles. England kept its traditional law that became English common law. What did the Code of Justinian consist of to make such an impact on European society?

The Code dealt with the law of the state as a mirror image of the rationality of the laws of nature. The power of the state was held by one individual, the emperor. The law had originally been vested in the people of the Roman Empire, but by the “royal law”, the people surrendered their legislative powers to a wise and benevolent emperor. The Roman law court was presided over by a judge, who was assumed to be a very learned man as well as a man of blameless life. He showed no bias or passion in court. He was appointed by the emperor, and his aim was to find out the truth in each case that was brought before him. The judge got written depositions from the prosecuting and the defense lawyers, interrogated witnesses, and, on occasion, used torture. The faults of this legal code jump to the eye; it was entirely too idealistic. Judges who were actually paragons of virtue have always been rare, and the Code assumed that they were the rule. No provision was made for an incompetent judge. Even worse were the obvious connections between the judiciary, the courts, and the state. A defendant charged with treason or any other crime against the state would have been hard pressed to get a fair trial from imperial appointees.  The use of torture is inexcusable; it did not provide for more truth in testimony. Nonetheless, the Code was vastly superior to the primitive Germanic legal traditions it replaced.  By introducing the orderly legal system of ancient Rome to replace antiquated, disorganized Germanic legal systems, the school of Bologna helped the governments of Europe organize their operations. By this contribution to Western European civilization, Bologna secured itself a reputation as one of the greatest of European educational institutions.






In the early Middle Ages, the Church, in theory, required every parish to maintain a school. In these schools, priests were to teach the scriptures, reading, writing, and reckoning, and their sole purpose was to educate boys for the priesthood. However, the burden of providing education fell on the cathedrals, as many parishes wee not able to provide schooling. These cathedrals were situated in towns that had been Roman municipia, but had declined during the political and social chaos of the early Middle Ages. These towns were secured by the building of walls to keep them safe from the threat of war, which disrupted commerce.  A few plots of land within the walls enabled innkeepers, porters, bakers, smiths, carpenters, and other craftsmen to set up shop and carry out commerce with the local nobility and with each other. Within the security of these town walls, commerce thrived and wealth increased, thus creating a situation in which learning flourished. Much of this wealth found it in the hands of the Church in the form of bequests from wealthy individuals. This made the cathedral schools possible, as surplus wealth made education itself possible. It gave those with the brightest minds the chance to share their knowledge with students without having to do manual labor for a living; indeed, the word “school” is derived from the Greek word “skole”, which roughly translates as “leisure to study”. By the late tenth century several cathedral schools had achieved prominence—Orleans, Chartres, Leon, Liege, and Paris in the realm of Francia, or France, that the Capetians took over in 987 C.E. Under the Capetians, Paris became the most important city in France and the greatest intellectual center of all Western Europe.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, education north of the Alps was associated with religious life. The focus of the cathedral school was the development of religious understanding. The students at the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries all studied as clerics. The word “cleric” did not mean the same thing it does today; there were several types of clerics. They were divided up into “major orders” and “minor orders”. The “major orders” were priests, deacons and subdeacons. In turn, there were two groups of priests. Some priests were members of monastic orders and lived their lives under the rules of their Orders. These priests were called “regular” priests (from the Latin, “regula”, meaning “rule”). Other priests were “secular” priests because they lived and worked in the world. The priests, along with the deacons and subdeacons, were required to take oaths of celibacy. The minor orders were known as “acolytes” and were subdivided in descending orders of rank: acolytes proper, exorcists, lectors, and porters (church doorkeepers) and they did not have to take vows of celibacy. With these careers as goals, these students only studied subjects that they would need for their careers. The only mathematics they learned concerned the calculation of moveable feast days of the Church, such as Easter and Pentecost. Because of the prestige and importance of the city of Paris, the school started to attract students from outside of the Paris area.  Students started to come to Paris to study in the cathedral school from Lorraine, Brittany, Rouen, Liege, and many other places. They were all eager for knowledge.  The mentality of the early Middle Ages, which had emphasized man’s sinfulness and the distance between God and man, gave way, in the late eleventh century, to a more positive assessment of the talents and capabilities of man and the notion that these had been given by God to be used, not wasted. The focus of education shifted away from strictly religious understanding to learning for its own sake as well as vocational training in teaching, medicine, and law. Students went to Bologna for law, Salerno for medicine; Paris’ roots in a cathedral school prepared it for prestige in theology. Even in Paris, with its prestigious theology faculty, many students prepared for careers as lawyers and physicians. This was one development that catapulted Paris from a cathedral school to the status of a university. But where did the word “university” originate?

The Latin word “universitas” (plural, “universitates”) originally applied to any group with a common purpose, as did the words “collegium” and “guild”. In some of the cathedral schools, the masters organized themselves along the lines of the craft guilds then forming in the European cities. The guilds were holdovers from the ancient Roman “collegia” (Latin, plural, “associations”), which had been mainly religious and fraternal organizations. In the Middle Ages, guilds became closed brotherhoods, mainly concerned with preserving the secrets and skills of their occupations. Only by obtaining master’s rank in a particular guild could anyone practice a particular craft, be it masonry, goldsmithing, glass-making, or anything else requiring craft-making skills. The aspiring craftsman started as an apprentice at about thirteen years of age. After seven years of training, the second stage of primary competence was reached, and the youth acquired the rank of journeyman. Following this, the candidate for the rank of master had to produce a piece of work worthy of a master, commonly called a “masterpiece”. There were covert requirements as well; they severely restricted membership in their guilds, and most people never advanced beyond journeyman rank. We do not know the date of the organization of the teachers, or masters, of the cathedral school of Notre Dame into a universitas; it probably took place between 1150 and 1175. The first documented usage of the word in this context appears in a missive of Pope Innocent III in 1208. The term universitas referred to the masters of the guild in Paris; they were designated “universitas magistrorum Parisiensis”.  The school itself became known as a “stadium generale”. This Latin term applied to an institution of study open to students from all nationalities; it did not imply variety in the school’s curriculum. These schools were strictly groups of people; they had no set buildings in which to hold their classes. The term “stadium generale” fell into disuse in the fifteenth century, at which time the institutions themselves came to be known as universities. The Old French word “faculte”, that gave us our word faculty (from Latin, “facultus”, meaning “capability”) first appeared around 1270, and originally meant the disciplines taught by the teachers of the liberal arts, theology, law, and medicine. It came to be synonymous with the word “universitas” at Paris, therefore, the Parisian universitas will heretofore be referred to as the faculty.

As early as the eleventh century the master chosen to preside over the cathedral school of Notre Dame had become a member of the cathedral chapter. The cathedral chapter was made up of the society of canons who formed the clergy of the cathedrals. These clerics were responsible for the cathedral’s complex administrative functions. The chapter member chosen as chancellor of the cathedral’s school in Paris was called a “chancellor”. He was not directly involved in the everyday teaching activities of the school, but since he had the power to license masters to teach, he, like other church officials, fell victim to the sweet smell of money, and started to practice simony in the form of demanding to be paid for a license. He also demanded a share of the master’s fees. Pope Alexander III, who reigned from 1159 too 1180, tried to stop these abuses. The granting of the license—called a “licentia docendi” (Latin, meaning “right to teach”) should be conferred on any learned man seeking it, the pope asserted at the Third Lateran Council in 1179. Nonetheless, Alexander confirmed the chancellor’s power to grant these licenses, which meant the masters owed their livelihoods to him. Furthermore, the ban on fees for licenses was not enforced, since it was mainly aimed at ordinary cathedral schools and diocesan schools, rather than Notre Dame itself. As late as 1212 the chancellor was refusing to grant the license to anyone who refused to pay for it. That same year, Pope Innocent III specifically forbade the chancellor of Notre Dame to take fees. But the main reason the chancellor in Paris lost his power was the proliferation of schools. A chancellor could run a cathedral school, but not all of the new schools being organized outside the cathedral. This proliferation was started by a brilliant Breton named Peter Abelard (1079—1142), who opened a school at Montagne Sainte-Genevieve among the rural vineyards on the left bank of the Seine. Abelard became the most renowned teacher in all of Europe, attracting students from as far away as Sweden.

At this point in time, French society was organized into very distinct and formal institutions. These institutions had a well-defined legal status, and in 1200 the universitas found itself lacking in adequate legal status. That year, a riot occurred between several students and an armed group of Parisians led by the provost, a royal official. The faculty was forced to formalize its legal role, which was granted by King Philip Augustus in the form of a charter that defined the rights of the masters and the students. They were recognized as clerics and given clerical immunity. This meant that no student could be tried in civil courts; they could only be tried in the ecclesiastical courts, which never imposed the death penalty. No student could be imprisoned for debt, and they were exempt from summons outside of Paris. All citizens were required to take an oath to report and bring to justice any townsman seen maltreating a student. Future officials were to promise, upon appointment, to go before an assembly of students and promise to uphold their privileges. In 1210 another royal decree defined the crimes for which a scholar could be charged with: homicide, adultery, rape, and the infliction of assault. The masters continued their assault on the chancellor’s power with help from Pope Innocent III, himself a graduate of Paris. In 1208 the pope gave the masters the right to make their own regulations. In 1212 and 1213, negotiations were held between three men representing the masters and three men representing the chancellor, who wished to retain his power over the licensure of masters. Judges appointed by the pope sat in attendance during these talks. The pope decided in favor of the masters, and in 1215 Robert de Courzon, a papal legate and cardinal, issued regulations that reflected the pope’s decision. The teaching methods of the university were standardized, as were the textbooks to be used. The masters were not to lecture on feast days. Drinking during meetings was banned. The scholars were encouraged to give items to charity, such as clothing. When one of the students died, half the members of the guild were to attend the funeral. When another student died, the other half of the guild were required to attend his funeral. When a master of the universitas died, all of the masters were required to keep vigils in a church, during which they read their Psalters. They were to do this until midnight. On the day of the master’s funeral, classes were not to be held.

The dispute between the master’s guild and the chancellor continued when the bishop of Paris excommunicated the faculty for making their own rules in 1219. He also accused the students of disturbing the public peace with their many tavern brawls. Pope Honorius III intervened for the masters; he ordered the lifting of the excommunication. The masters had gone from subservience to the bishop of Paris to dependency on the papacy. It took another crisis to create corporate independence for the masters. During Carnival, 1228, there was a series of riots that started in several taverns. The Queen-Regent, Blanche of Castille, called out the provosts and his soldiers to quell the riots. She chose to ignore the clerical immunity that had been granted to the scholars. During the fighting that ensued several students were killed. To protest the breaking of the clerical immunity regulations and the killings, the masters stopped lecturing; when no one heeded their anger over the bloodshed, they held a meeting on Easter Monday and issued a threat to leave Paris in a month for six years if they did not get redress. They did not get it, so they left. Some went to other schools in France, and some went to Oxford in England. Soon after this Louis IX was crowned King of France, and he reaffirmed the clerical immunity promised by his grandfather Philip II. Pope Gregory reproved the bishop of Paris for his inactivity during the dispute. The masters returned in 1231. That year Pope Gregory issued a bull called “Parens scientiarum”, (Latin, “mother of sciences”), which has been called the “Magna Carta” of the university of Paris. The pope officially recognized the universitas. The effect of “Parens scientiarum” was the rendering of the chancellor subservient to the masters in no uncertain terms. The chancellor was required to take a public oath before the bishop and the chapter and two representatives of the university to bestow the license on any man judged worthy by the masters. The masters were to make their own rules concerning teaching, dress, funerals, the price of lodgings, and the power to enforce them by expulsion. The masters were to demand admonitions from the authorities to persons who killed or injured a master of student, or landlords who would not let the university assess houses for the students’ lodgings.  If the guilty parties were not brought to justice within fifteen days, the masters could stop lecturing until justice was done. They were immune to excommunication without papal approval. This last privilege was subject to periodic renewals from the papacy, but no pope ever revoked this privilege. The bull also forbade scholars from carrying weapons in the city, and reaffirmed clerical immunity. The effect of “Parents scientiarum” was to make the university independent of both the city and the chapter, but dependent on the papacy.

The next political dispute at the school was between the secular masters and the mendicant monastic orders, the Franciscan and Dominican Orders. The dispute began with a class between the scholars and townspeople in 1253. A student was killed, and the masters suspended lectures in protest of the violations of “Parens scientiarum”.  The lecturers from the mendicant monastic orders, the Franciscans and the Ordo Predacatoris (the Dominicans), however, kept lecturing. The secular masters resented the privileges enjoyed by these friars. The friars had had their own schools in Paris since 1217, independent of the authority of the university. Yet many of them were members of the theology faculty. In their schools they taught liberal arts, philosophy, and theology. Their liberal arts program was so strong that graduates were able to go straight to the theology school at the university; they already had as much knowledge of the liberal arts as any member of the arts faculty. They did not need licenses to teach in their studia; all they needed for the right to teach in their schools was recognition from their order. The Dominicans, who called themselves “Ordo Predacatoris” (Latin, meaning “Order of Preachers”) emphasized education as the most important tool to the stamping out of heresy. When the friars first established their schools in Paris, they did not seek entrance into the university, as they were busy establishing schools for their members. The excellence of the theology program at the university in Paris attracted them, and before long they were sending students to the stadium generale to study theology. When the masters broke up in 1229, the mendicants became more involved in teaching. They opened their schools to secular students during the absence of the secular masters. During this period the first Dominican to join the faculty at Paris began to teach. This Dominican friar, Roland of Cremona, retained his position when the secular masters returned. Then a secular member of the theology faculty, Alexander of Hales, joined the Franciscan Order. The number of Franciscan and Dominican seats in the theology faculty increased; the number of secular seats decreased. By 1254 there were three chairs for the Dominicans, three chairs for the Franciscans, and three for members of other monastic orders. Only three were left to secular masters. The secular masters began to fear that their days as teachers were numbered. They were unhappy with the possibility of these mendicants becoming members of the theology faculty while remaining free of obligations of conforming to the rules of the universitas. In 1252 the theology faculty passed a statute in an attempt to restrict the number of mendicants teaching in the theology faculty. The resentment of the secular masters exploded in 1253; they expelled three friars, one holder of a Franciscan chair and two holders of Dominican chairs for refusing to stop lecturing while the masters sought redress for a slain student. The friars appealed to Pope Innocent IV, who lifted the excommunication.  The secular masters wrote an open letter to the pope which complained that the friars were attracting all of their students and making the livelihoods of the seculars extremely precarious. Pope Innocent IV was inclined to support the seculars; his successor, Alexander IV, threw his support behind the mendicants after the proctor at Rome, Guillaume de Saint-Amour, publicly criticized the French King. The incensed King asked the pope to rule against the seculars as retaliation. The dispute dragged on for ten years; the pope ordered the seculars to admit the mendicants into the universitas structure, which they were not yet officially part of. The masters claimed that this would destroy the universitas. The pope accused the seculars’ proctor at Rome, Guillaume de Saint-Amour, of being the ringleader in the masters’ fight with the mendicants, and the struggle started to center around him. He had written treatises portraying the friars as “false prophets of the last times.” By 1259 the pope had developed a more cooperative attitude with the secular masters, and the seculars were ready for a settlement of the dispute as well. Guillaume de Saint-Amour was exiled to his native Franche-Comte. The secular masters readmitted the monastic masters, who pledged full obedience to the rulers of the universitas. The pope who succeeded Alexander IV, Pope Urban IX, himself a former Parisian canonist, excluded mendicants from the arts faculty, limited the number of mendicants who were allowed to lecture at Paris, and forbade the friars to teach secular students. The faculty emerged from this crisis as a more cohesive force.




The development of the universitas itself we have already seen. The faculties, as mentioned above, were the different disciplines taught at the university. The word “universitas” became associated with the faculty. Late in the twelfth century the theologians of the universitas broke with the guild of the cathedral and started one of their own. By 1207 their corporate structure was in place, and by the middle of the thirteenth century they were firmly entrenched as a separate guild. That same year Pope Innocent III decreed that there were to be no more than eight members of the theology faculty. The theologians ignored this decree. As mentioned above, by 1274 there were four faculties in Paris, one in the liberal arts, one in theology, one in medicine, and one in law. Each faculty was governed by a decanus, or dean.

Colleges (from the Latin word “collegium” meaning “group”) were originally hospices endowed by wealthy patrons. They served two purposes; to house poor scholars, and provide the necessary supervision boys of thirteen or fourteen years of age who were away from home for the first time. These boys had come to the universitas straight from grammar school. Also, there is evidence that the foreign students, in particular, were often exploited by Parisian landlords. The colleges were the precursors of our “scholarships” since money to provide for the students’ needs were included in acceptance to a college. The Hotel-Dieu, the public hospital adjoined to Notre Dame, set aside a room for poor students. In 1180 Jocius of London bought this apartment, and thereafter shared in providing room and board to eighteen poor students. In return, the scholars had to take turns carrying the cross and holy water before the bodies of those who died in the Hotel-Dieu. This was the first college in Paris. By 1231 these students had acquired larger quarters, but the name “College des Dix-Huit”—“College of Eighteen”—stuck. In 1257 Robert de Sorbon, King Louis IX’s chaplain, obtained 500 pounds from an archdeacon from Tournai, in what is now Belgium, to found a college for sixteen poor theology students. After awhile, the students began to receive private lessons in their residences. These lessons developed into lectures when private teaching was banned in 1276. This is how Robert de Sorbon’s college became the College de Sorbonne, the seat of the faculty of theology. Today, a plaque on the building housing the administrative offices of the University of Paris simply reads “La Sorbonne”, which has been the name of the entire school since the nineteenth century.

It is not clear who comprised the institutions called the “nations” but it seems to have been the arts masters. The theology faculty broke with the guild in 1207, and started their own. The faculties of law and medicine only came into existence in 1274. At any rate, the masters and students organized themselves into “nations” (from the Latin, “natio” meaning “place of birth”) to defend their interests. These groups had also been formed in Ravenna, as has been noted above. However, since the arts students of Paris were much younger that the law students of Bologna, the nations of Paris were not identical to the nations of Bologna. Many of the arts students at Paris were in their teens, and had not ventured outside of their home villages before their arrival in Paris. Like the students of Bologna, however, the nations served the purposes of the foreign students; they were groups of students of the same nationality who protected each other and gave them a sense of “citizenship” in a foreign land. It is not known when they were first organized at Paris; the first documented mention of them was by Pope Honorius in 1222.  By 1249 there were four nations in Paris; they were called the French, the Normans, the Picards, and the English. The French “nation” included students from Paris, southern France, Italy, and Spain. The “Norman” group included those from Normandy and Brittany. The “Picard” nation was named after the area just north of Paris, and was made up of students from northern France and the Low Countries. The “English” nation was made up of students from the British Isles, Scandinavia, Germany, and the Slavic East. After some time this nation became known as the “English-German nation.” These nations served as the corporate identity of the arts masters and students. Since the arts masters were two-thirds of the entire faculty, these nations were the most important organizations of the university. They bound groups of students together in the absence of regular buildings and halls that house modern universities.

Enmity between these groups was intense; many skirmishes between members of different nations are documented in the school’s records. Some of these were so intense that papal or royal intervention was required to resolve the disputes between the feuding parties. The nations had names for the members of the other nations, and not one was complimentary.  It was alleged by the other nations that the English nation drank too much and even had tails. The Germans were supposedly blustery; the Flemish were supposedly fat and greedy. This gave the university a bellicose atmosphere and reputation; the citizens of Paris resented the frequency of disputes which ended in riots and killings. Pope Honorius’ mention of the nations in 1222 was an admonition to each nation to refrain from violence. Each nation was run as an independent educational institution. The nation insured the individual scholar’s legal privileges; members of all of the nations were always quick to defend any of their number who was accused of a crime. Each nation had their own schools. The arts faculty and students—and thus the nations—had their lectures in rooms in buildings on the left bank of the Seine, most of them in the “Street of Straw” (“la Rue de Fouarre” in French), so called because the students sat on straws to hear their lectures. In 1328 the leadership of the French nation attempted to stop the proliferation of schools in the Street of Straw because too many masters were renting rooms there and receiving funds for their upkeep. The left bank of the Seine became known as the “Latin quarter” because so many students lived there, speaking the language of scholarship, Latin, which they were required to speak even when not in class. The nations administered all of the examinations the arts students were required to take. Every year the masters had to reapply for their teaching positions. Each nation elected its own officers, including officers called procurators or proctors. Originally the proctors were in charge of the nation’s financial matters. The primary source of the nation’s income was fees paid to the masters. The students had to pay to take the various examinations, all of which were administered by the nations. After awhile, the proctors became the governing officers of the nations. Other officers called receptors took over the financial affairs of the nations. Qualifications for the proctor’s office varied from nation to nation, but in all of them the proctor had to be at least twenty-one years of age and had to be a regent master (i.e, a master officially teaching in one of the faculties). To elect a proctor, the nations chose electors. This selection was done by the nation’s various subgroups. The five provinces of the French nation, Paris, Sens, Rheims, Tours and Bourges were each represented by an elector. Until the fifteenth century, a proctor could only serve for a month. The meetings of the nations usually occurred once a week. The proctor had the exclusive rights to summon these meetings. He was aided by noncommissioned officers called bedells. These officers kept records listing all graduates and masters of the arts. They got their information from attending the lectures of students being considered for degrees and their subsequent graduation, or “inception” ceremonies. From the proctors’ office came the office of rector.

The word “rector” first appeared in 1237 as a reference to one of the proctors. The rector’s office was first differentiated from that of the proctors in 1249, when representatives of the nations elected a rector. By this time he had come the head officer of the arts faculty. In 1254, in the heat of the dispute between the universitas and the friars, all of the masters recognized the rector as head of the entire faculty, as they needed leadership during this crisis. However, the definition of the powers and responsibility of the rector at this point had not been formalized. The arts faculty was two thirds of the entire universitas, so it was only natural that the acknowledged head of the arts faculty became the university’s leader. Also, many of the members of the higher faculty were also members of the arts universitas, since they had incepted into that universitas in Paris. The rector’s position during the dispute with the friars was basically that of the universitas’ spokesman. Between 1260 and 1280 successive rectors consolidated their positions, and by 1284 they were presiding over meetings of the entire universitas. The rectors were only allowed to serve for a month or six weeks until 1266, when their terms were expanded to three months. The rector had two important responsibilities. At the universitas level, he presided over their meetings. Together with the four proctors, one from each nation, he constituted a court that dealt with discipline problems. However, he had no real power over the higher faculties.




Education in the Middle Ages usually started at age seven—“sons of seven summers ready for apprenticeship to letters”. These boys usually came from the towns, since it was illegal in many places in Europe to educate a serf. Education was associated with religious life, and all students were classified as clerics, or clerks, and all schools were under the administration of the Church, with the exception of guild schools that trained apprentices. Latin was the universal language of scholarship. A document called “De Disciplina scholarium” appeared in the thirteenth century, and was falsely ascribed to the sixth century Roman philosopher Boethius. In fact, it was written in the late twelfth century—in bad Latin. Then, as now, education often failed to reach its goals; it is quite strange for a guidebook on schooling to be written in bad Latin, the universal language of scholarship. Nonetheless, the document contained good advice to parents and students about many aspects of schooling, as well as an abstract discussion of the lofty aims of higher education. It started with the illiteracy of early childhood and ended with obtaining the status of obtaining the status of a master in a university. This document, and others like it, advocated the study of Latin authors such as Seneca, Lucas, Virgil, and Horace, as well as instruction in the student’s vernacular language. By 1100 all students approached Latin as a foreign language. The popular Latin spoken in the lands that had been the Roman Empire had changed so much that it had become completely different languages. The spoken Latin had always varied from region to region; out in the provinces of the Roman Empire, the Latin of the people, as opposed to the literary Latin of the writers, had never been standardized in any way. Speech and writing retained local characteristics, and these became local vernaculars. These vernaculars were the precursors of the Romance languages, such as Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese, among others. After mastering Latin, the student was then to proceed to the study of logic, which the document described as “a supreme arbiter between truth and falsity and as the science of the sciences”.  Development of the student’s memory was considered very important, but so was character development. The student was to be taught a firm foundation in grammar, Latin literature, and elementary logic. After this, the student, aged thirteen or fourteen, was ready to go to a university. However, not all students at the university in Paris had followed the same road to get there. Some were parish priests in their twenties or thirties sent to the university to improve his Latin in the arts universitas, since many a priest was hindered by ignorance of Latin.        

Since the higher offices in the church, the bishoprics and the archbishoprics, were held by members of the aristocracy, it should come as no surprise that many of them were appallingly ignorant in Latin. In the fourteenth century, a man known to history only as Lewis was chosen as bishop of Durham, England. The subprior of the same cathedral, Robert de Graystanes, wrote that this man was chosen for this post only because of his high birth. He knew not a word of Latin, and this is why his consecration ceremony was such a huge embarrassment. Robert wrote:


When, therefore, at his consecration, he should have made his formal profession, he could not read it, though he had been instructed therein for many days beforehand, and having last arrived, with many prompts from others, which after many gasps he yet could not pronounce, at length he said in the French tongue “let that be taken as read”.


The observers were shocked that one of so little education was being consecrated at bishop. Lewis was bishop for seventeen years, never mastering a word of Latin. In a ceremony in which he was ordaining priests, he did not understand the Latin text of the ceremony. He came to a passage that was a Biblical quotation, and said, again in French, “By St. Louis, the man was a clown who wrote this word”.

The situation was even worse in the lower ranks of the clergy. These men came from the lower classes and had limited access to education. Councils in England and France ordered the testing of every priest for his competence in Latin. The results of the testing showed that a great majority of the clergy were illiterate in Latin. These clerics could have gotten into the liberal arts program in Paris, since the only requirement was an elementary knowledge of Latin. Latin was the language of instruction; students were required to speak Latin even when they were not in class. The life of a medieval university student in Paris was hard. Most of the students in Paris were from the families of lesser knights or city-dwellers and were impecunious. Many were from other nationalities and were heartily disliked by the provincial citizens of Paris. Many of these students were charged excessive rates by landlords. The students from the mercantile class, despised by both the Church and nobility, sought to break out of the confined of the class they were born into by entering the service of the Church or the government. These students had to deal with long and difficult studies, the very high cost of living in Paris, and the extreme difficulty of finding decent lodging and food in Paris. In 1282 one building used for lodging students was appraised at six pounds, which was almost an average worker’s yearly wage. The difficulty of their studies is well-illustrated in a dense, complicated question posted by a well-respected master, Matthew of Aquasparta (c. 1235—1302):


The question is, whether for the knowledge of a thing the existence of the thing itself is required or whether that which is not can be the object of the understanding.


The students were also required to pay each master for taking his classes; this was the tuition system at medieval universities.

Since the printing press did not make its debut in Europe until the fifteenth century, how did the masters and students obtain their required texts? After the fifth century of our era, the rolls that had been used for books in antiquity were abandoned. The standard practice was to take a piece of parchment, which was made out of coarse sheepskin, and cut it into rectangles. These were folded into “folios”, and were bound together with heavy sheepskin, heavy cloth, or leather. The bookmaking process in the Middle Ages was so labor-intensive that it took a year to copy one volume of the Bible. This made books prohibitively expensive. Someone purchased a Bible for ten talents, approximately $10,000 in modern currency. Someone else paid for two volumes of Priscian with a house and a lot. The rectors of the faculty made textbooks available to students and masters by hiring scribes who copied the textbooks. A complete textbook had been copied by these scribes was called an “exemplar”. The exemplar was then copied by scribes into a series of sections called “peciae” (Latin, “pieces”), which usually consisted of four folios, or eight pages each. The peciae were examined by four masters for any improper transcription. The faculty then authorized the booksellers, or “stationers” to sell the peciae, the price being set by the faculty. It was also possible for students and masters to go to the booksellers and borrow a pecia. They then copied it onto parchment that they had brought and returned it to the booksellers. The price of these loans was also set by the faculty. The students of Paris used parchment for this purpose until 1453, when the faculty decided to let them use paper. In 1291 the faculty issued regulations concerning its sales to student and masters. The Church then proclaimed that making money was sinful. The booksellers were required to take an oath of obedience to the faculty every two years until 1342; afterwards they were required to take these oaths every year. When the merchants got to Paris with the parchment; they were required to go to the rector’s office. One of the rector’s assistants inventoried the parchment and had its quality attested to by four parchment-dealers connected to the faculty. After this, the university noted masters and students that new parchment was available for purchase. The parchment merchants were then to display the parchment in a place that had been designated for them for twenty-four hours. During this time the students inspected the parchment; when the twenty-four hours had elapsed, the students could purchase parchment for their textbook needs. The booksellers, commonly called “stationers”, were not allowed to charge more than four pence for their books. The bedells were in charge of making sure the merchants complied with the university’s guidelines. Despite these early hindrances, the book industry owed its existence to the rise of the universities, since they were the first to demand multiple copies of many texts.

How did the students get the money to pay their fees, since none of them worked for wages? For the rich, of course, this was not a problem. Since most students were impoverished, however, something had to be done to help them pay for their education and their needs while attending classes at the stadium generale. The popes wanted promising priests to go the university to study theology, and they decided that the proper way to do this was to give each student a benefice, or income from a parish. Under this agreement, the student got the income from the parish, providing the parish priests with enough funds for his needs and those of the parish. The first pope to notify local churches that they were to give benefices to promising young priests or boys who showed promise for an ecclesiastical career was Alexander III, who discussed the topic with the bishops of the Church at the Third Lateran Council in 1179. In 1219 Pope Honorius III issued a bull called “Super speculum”, in which he asked bishops and chapters to provide benefices for students. The benefices were to be paid to the students for five years. Few students got these before the papacy moved to Avignon in 1309; at this point the papacy gained control over the granting of benefices. Some of the masters got benefices, but this was because they were ecclesiastics, not because they were teachers. Up until this time, the students were consigned to lives of poverty; they might be helped by members of his nation.

For the poor students with no benefice, there was the remote possibility of securing room and board in one of the colleges. What was life like in these institutions? It depended, to a certain extent, on which college the students lived in. In 1268, Guilliame de Saone, a wealthy native of Rouen, endowed a college. It was known as the College of the Treasurer, as Guillaume was the treasurer for his parish in Rouen. The college was for students from the Rouen area, and the house they lived in was one that been purchased by Guillaume as a student in Paris. It was to house twelve poor theology students, each of whom was to receive three solidi a week over a period of 45 weeks beginning on the feast of St. Denis, October 9. They were to be eligible to receive this money for six years, after which time they were replaced. A theology student could stay longer if he showed exceptional learning and have been given permission to give public lectures. Guillaume also allotted 25 pounds to twelve liberal arts students, all from Rouen, for their housing and food. The students were to be chosen by two archdeacons, both from the diocese of Rouen. Guillaume also donated his textbooks for a library that was organized in the house. To keep their scholarships, the students had to follow special rules. They were to spend most of their time studying. They could not be quarrelsome and disrupt the other students in the house. They were not to go to taverns or meet “women of bad repute”. They were to speak Latin while in the house. Guillaume did not wish the students to lend anyone else the books from the library, “lest they be lost or mutilated or soiled”. This discipline was to be imposed by the senior scholar, who was to call a house meeting every Sunday to discuss all of the activities each had participated in the previous week. Guillaume was interested in helping students acquire the rank of master in the theology universitas; after they incepted into the theological universitas and did the mandatory two years of lecturing, they were on their own. After all, these students would have been well into their thirties and ready to look after themselves as lecturers in any case.

More detailed is the documentation of life in the College de Sorbonne. These students were all theology students, and therefore already masters of arts. They were older and more mature than the arts students. The residents of this college were called “fellows”, and they were each to mark their clothing with a mark, distinguishing the clothing as theirs. They then placed the mark on a schedule with his name on it, so the servants would know whose clothes they were washing. Non-clerics were not allowed to stay in the house. The students were not allowed to eat meat during Advent, or on Monday or Tuesday of Lent, or between Ascension Day (forty days after Easter) and Pentecost, ten days later. Each student was allotted a “portion” of food for each meal. No student was allowed a key to the kitchen. Students were allowed to leave the house to go to class, church, or affairs concerning the university. They were not allowed to sleep in any other house in Paris. There were rules concerning guests, since some affairs of the college were confidential. Consequently, guests were not allowed to be present at college meetings. Apparently the rules concerning the speaking of Latin at the school were laxly enforced, since funds providing for the maintenance of five masters who were fluent in Flemish were allocated in 1266. Three times a year, on the feast of St. Bartholomew (August 24), Christmas, and Easter, officials called “petty proctors” were installed to keep order in the house. These officers were to appoint their successors at least two weeks before these dates. Their duties included recording all of the items belonging to the college, such as vessels and furniture, and updating this inventory to give to their successors. They were responsible for washing all vessels that were used at meals, and for repairing the ones that got broken. They were to wash the napkins twice a week and the towels three times a week. They were also responsible for cleaning the chapel, hall, and court, and were to insure the pleasant appearance of the grounds. The petty proctors who took office on Easter were responsible to providing firewood for the hall and kitchen for a year, unless the college voted to allow two proctor’s terms for this purpose. The proctors who took office on the feast of St. Bartholomew were responsible to making verjuice, and for acquiring wines of vintages called salinato, rapeto and others that they were provided funds to purchase. Those who took office on Christmas were responsible for acquiring the food the college would need for Lent, peas, beans and certain spices. All petty proctors, upon leaving office, were responsible for securing adequate wine for the college; when they left office they were to leave two hogsheads of wine to their successors. They were to appraise the wines that were brought to them, along with three or four fellows of the college. They hired the servants of the college. When the petty proctors hired a servant, each applicant was tested for a period of between eight and fifteen days, a custom of the period, and then had to be approved by a majority vote of the college before they could actually be hired. Among the servants they hired were lectors, a provost, a clerk of the chapel and a priest who said masses for the fellows of the college. They were also responsible for student discipline. They called the rolls eight days after a religious holiday, if a fellow was absent, he was fined sixpence, and a penny for each day after that. Once the students were able to support themselves by lecturing, they were to leave in order to allow another poor student to live in the house during the course of his theological students. The College also employed a janitor. He was to greet visitors, and ask whom the visitor wanted to see. If the guest asked for a fellow, he was required to find that fellow and tell him he had a visitor waiting for him. If the caller was a person of eminence, he was allowed to wait in the court. The janitor was also to keep the court, the walks, the steps and the rooms of the fellows clean. He was to provide water for the lavatory and keep it clean. If he had to go to town for some valid reason, he was required to find a replacement to guard the gate while gone.

Only a small minority of students were affected by these rather stringent rules, since only those who had connections with powerful people were able to secure a place in a college in the thirteenth century. Clerical immunity gave the students a feeling that they were above the laws that were enforced by the local officials, since they could not be arrested by these officials. Furthermore, many students were “wandering students” who traveled, often on foot, from one university to another, stopping in taverns in their travels. These students could not be penalized for what they did anywhere, since they did not stay in one political entity long enough to come to the attention of the secular or even the ecclesiastical authorities. Some of these students wrote poems and songs about these extracurricular activities. These were the Goliards, who claimed to be members of an order called “Ordo vagorum”, or “Order of Wanderers”, and were active in France and Germany. The Goliards took their name from their hero, Golias, the order’s mythological “patron saint”. They had their own literature, which was preserved in a monastery in Bavaria called Benediktbeuern. The manuscripts of this literature were published in 1847 as “Carmina Burana” or “Beuern Poems”. In one work called “Metamorphosis of Golias”, many a monstrous and absurd activity was attributed to Golias. Another piece called the “Apocalypse of Golias” even included parodies of Holy Writ. It is interesting to note that although the Goliards were mostly students, the two best-known Goliard poets were not. One of these poets was Hugh Primas, a canon of Orleans, who was active around 1140. His poems attacked corruption in the Church. More famous was a German knight who preferred wine, women and verse to warfare. He is known to history only as the “Archpoet”. Around 1161 he wrote one of the most famous of medieval poems, “Confession of Golias”.


Seeking over inwardly

I am one element,

Levity my matter,

Like enough a withered leaf

For the winds to scatter

Since it is the property of the sapient

To sit firm upon a rock, it is evident

That I am a fool, since

I am a flowing river,

Never under the same sky,

Transient forever.

Hither, thither, masterless

Ship upon the sea,

Wandering through the ways of air,

Go the birds like me.

Bound am I by ne’er a bond,

Prisoner by no key,

Questing go I for my kind,

Find depravity.

Never yet could I endure

Soberness and sadness,

Jests I love and sweeter than

Holey find I gladness.

Whatsoever Venus bids

Is a joy exciting,

Never in an evil heart

Did she make her dwelling.

Down the broad way do I go,

Young and unregretting,

Wrap me in my vices up,

Virtue all forgetting,

Greedier for all delight

Than heaven to enter in;

Since the soul is in me dead,

Better save the skin.

Pardon, pray you, good my lord,

Master of discretion,

But this death I die is sweet,

Most delicious poison.

Wounded to the quick am I

By a young girl’s beauty;

She’s beyond my touching? Well,

Can’t the mind do duty?

Yet a second charge they bring;

I’m forever gaming.

Yea, the dice hath many a time

Stripped me to my shaming.

What and if the body’s cold,

In the mind is burning.

On the anvil hammering,

Rhymes and verses turning.

Look again upon your list.

Is the tavern on it?

Yeah, and never have I scorned

Never shall I scorn it,

Till the holy angels scorn it,

Till the holy angels come,

And my eyes discern them,

Singing for the dying soul,

Requiem aeternam.

For on this my heart is set;

When the hour is nigh me,

Let me in the tavern die,

With a tankard by me,

While the angels looking down

Joyously sing o’er me,

Deus sit propitius

Huic potatori.

‘Tis the fire that’s in the cup

Kindles the soul’s torches,

‘Tis the heart that drenched in wine

Flies to heaven’s porches.

Sweeter tastes the wine to me

In a tavern tankard

That the watered stuff my Lord

Bishop has decanted.

Let them fast and water drink,

All the poets’ chorus,

Fly the market and the crowd

Racketing uproarious.

Sit in quiet spots and think,

Shun the tavern’s portal

Write, and never have lived,

Die to be immortal.



Even though the quality of Goliard literature declined after 1250, the Goliards continued to worry the university officials, who feared that hangers-on were masquerading as students to get academic privileges. Thus, in 1289, the rector required that each master keep a list of their students, so that they could distinguish between students and vagabonds.

For the students who stayed in Paris, there were opportunities to drink in taverns, play cards, and other activities of which the authorities disapproved. There were so many students that it was impossible to police them. Every year the students had a celebration during the Octave of Christmas, the eight days before Christmas. For twenty-four hours, students became masters and were permitted to break away from the strict discipline of medieval academia. They were given the freedom to indulge in various kinds of wild behavior, spending the time in carousing and general licentiousness. They had a song that expressed their feelings about this day.


Adest dies

Optats, socci;

Quidquid agant, et velint alii

Nos choream ducamus gaudii.

Pro baculo

Exsultet hodie

Cleruscum populo.


This translates as:


Friends, the long-for

Day is dawning:

Whatever others

Will or won’t

We will lead

The dance rejoicing

In the baton’s


Clerk and people join.

On this day, the choirmaster’s baton—the ultimate symbol of authority—belonged to the students. In 1269 citizens of Paris decided that they had had enough of the behavior of the wilder behavior of the students. The citizens claimed that the troublemakers were students in name only; they spent all of their time committing crimes. The students were alleged to have either wounded or killed citizens, raped women, and broken into inns. The ecclesiastical count issued a statement that these crimes would not be tolerated by ecclesiastical authorities, and any scholar caught committing these crimes would at once be excommunicated. The court also mandated that anyone who knew anything about the crime to report it within seven days or be excommunicated themselves; however, clerics were usually absolved by the bishop.

Not all students frequented taverns of were involved in riots. An anonymous writer wrote about the experience of a model student, Richard of Chichester (c. 1197—1253), who was eventually canonized as a saint of the Church:


Richard therefore hastily left his father’s lands…..and betook himself to the University of Oxford and then that of Paris, where he learned logic. Such was his love of learning that he cared little for food or raiment…….he and two companions who lodged in the same chamber had only their tunics, and one gown between them, and each of them a miserable pallet. When one, therefore, went out with the gown to hear a lecture, the other sat in their room, and so they went forth alternately; and bread with a little wine and pottage sufficed for their food yet he hath oftentimes  told me how, in all his days, he had never after led so pleasant and delectable a life.


What did the students and masters wear? When a bachelor was going through determinations to become a licentiate, he was not allowed to wear a cope without a hood of the same cloth. The hood could not have knots on it. He was not to wear a miter in the classroom while determining. Masters were to wear the long-sleeved cope and the fur trimmed cassock. If they came to meetings in garments deemed inappropriate, such as mantles, sleeveless tunics, or tabards their votes were not to count. De Courzon’s rules banned pointed shoes.




The masters taught their students by means of reading from a textbooks; a master could also be called a “reader” because of the importance placed on the actual reading of the text. This teaching method had been used in Bologna with the Code of Justinian, as noted above. Before de Courzon’s 1215 regulations each maser could choose any book he pleased to read in his classes. Courzon’s regulations included a list of textbooks that the masters were required to read to their students. After the reading of a text, there would be some commentary and much debating. By the middle of the thirteenth century, debating was an important part of medieval learning. Every two weeks the students were assigned a question by their masters, and spent the next fortnight debating the question. Then the master would resolve the conflict. The scholars of the period believed that various forms of disputation led to the truth, and that is what the students were after. Hence all of the examinations given at Paris were all oral disputations, on the grounds that having to defend or refute a point from their readings was the best way to show that the student had mastered the material.

Every morning at dawn the students heard mass, after which they went to class. They sat on the floor of a room rented for the class, taking notes on parchment. In 1245 the university issued regulations concerning the rental of classrooms. No master was allowed to rent more than one classroom, and he could not use the classroom of another master. The fees for renting classrooms were fixed by the university. If a landlord refused to let a room be used for the price set by the faculty, the house would be placed on a “black list” for five years. Masters were not to use houses on this list on pain of being expelled from the faculty.

Courzon’s regulations set the length of the arts course at six years.  There were to be four terms, starting on the first of October and ending in mid-September, but “Parens scientiarum” mandated a summer vacation of a month. By the end of the fourteenth century, the vacation lasted from the last week in June until October. By this time there were three terms in the school year. School always started on October 1, the feast of St. Regigius.

What did the faculties teach? At Paris, theology ruled supreme, although there were four faculties—arts, theology, law, and medicine. All students started out with the liberal arts. The word “liberal” is from the Latin word “libera”, which means “free”. They had been defined by Aristotle as the proper subjects for freemen who sought not practical skills, but rather, moral and intellectual excellence. In the fifth century of our era, these “arts” had been classified by a Roman scholar named Martianus Capella. During the centuries after this these were divided into two groups, the trivium—rhetoric, logic, and grammar, and the quadrivium—music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. Grammar was the study of not just Latin grammar, but also Latin literature. Logic, or dialectic, was ignored in favor of grammar and rhetoric up until the twelfth century. During the early part of the Middle Ages, rhetoric included the study of law, which had not yet become an independent branch of learning. Geometry clung to its Euclidian roots. Musical instruction consisted of the rules of plainsong, along with some theory of sound, as well as the connection of harmony and numbers. Astronomy dealt with the movement of heavenly bodies, and contained a great deal of what is now astrology. This academic tradition was carried on by Alcuin and his associates at Charlemagne’s palace school in the ninth century. It passed into the revival of learning of the early twelfth century. On a façade of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris Grammar was portrayed as an elderly woman holding a rod; Dialectic clutches the serpent of wisdom. Rhetoric holds tablets of poetry. Arithmetic counts on her fingers; Geometry holds compasses. Astronomy clutched an astrolabe, and Music strikes a bell and listens to the peal. To these teachers and students of the early twelfth century, the liberal arts were the basis of all other learning, especially the trivium. They were the means by which man’s reasoning faculties could put him in a position of kinship with God that would survive the effects of sin. Several chancellors of the stadium generale compared the seven liberal arts to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. An anonymous scholar stated “The sword of God is forged by grammar, sharpened by logic, and burnished by rhetoric, but only theology can use it”. At Paris, however, the changing intellectual climate drastically affected the liberal arts. By the late twelfth century those parts of the liberal arts curriculum that pertained to theology were emphasized at the expense of those aspects which had no bearing on theology. Logic was crucial for theology during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, because it had moved away from the mystical and moral orientation of St. Augustine of Hippo towards the use of Aristotelian logic. As law became an entire discipline of learning in its own right, rhetoric became preparation for the branch of law that dealt with the writing of legal documents and official letters. There was no longer any room for grammar—classical literature—at Paris. Many scholars, including one of Abelard’s more famous students, John of Salisbury, were dismayed over the lack of attention classical literature was getting in Paris. The students, like students of every generation, saw the past as irrelevent; they only had the future under their control; in the future was their dream of glory. John wrote a poem about the mood of the students with an air of both amusement and concern:


On all sides they shout: Where is this old donkey going?

Why speaks he to us of the sayings or deeds of the ancients?

We have inside information; our youth is self-taught.

Our band does not accept the dogmas of the ancients.

We do not bother ourselves to follow the utterances

Of those authors whom Greece has and Rome cherishes.

I am a resident of the Petit-Pont, a new author in arts,

And glory that previous discoveries are my own.

What the elders taught, but dear youth knows not yet,

I swear was the invention of my own bosom.

A worshipping crowd of youth surrounds me, and thinks

That when I make grandiloquent boasts, I merely speak the truth.


In 1252 the last grammar master at Paris died. Students wishing to study literature went to Orleans, where there was a school offering a very strong grammar program. Around 1250 an allegorical French poem called “The Battle of the Seven Arts” was written by a scholar named Henry of Andeli. Grammar, from Orleans, is the defender of the classical authors. It loses in battle to logic, from Paris, and must go into hiding. As for the quadrivium, it began to be taught within the context of Aristotle’s scientific works. Theology was a rarefied subject that was confined to a few universities.

The word “baccalaureus”, which translated into English as “bachelor” is of unknown origin; students began to acquire this rank towards the middle of the thirteenth century. At Paris the baccalaureate rank was acquired by completion of several examinations administered about four years into the course of study. The examination was a disputation called a responsion, and was administered by four masters, one from each nation. Successful completion of this examination made the student eligible for “determination” in the arts faculty. Determination was a series of arguments that originally took place in the early weeks of Lent; in time, determination came to last the entire Lenten season. Determination disputations summed up the topics raised during the responsion disputations. Those who performed these arguments to the satisfaction of the masters acquired the rank of “baccalaurii”, “bachelors”. These students remained attached to their masters, under whose direction they studied, but they also began to teach by lecturing in public and participating in public arguments, as did the masters. There was no time limit for this; when the bachelor acquired the learning his master had required him to, he advanced to the stage at which he was to be considered for “licensure”, the reception of the license from the chancellor. The candidate for licensure was first required to appear before his nation and promise to be honest in all financial matters. He was required to have studied a prescribed list of texts. He was required to demonstrate his academic achievements since gaining the baccalaureate. He was also required to have attended lectures in mathematics. If he was approved by the vice-chancellor, a day was set aside for him to appear before the vice-chancellor and deliver his lecture (“collationes”). To become a licentiate, the student needed a unanimous vote of approval from his nation. Then the student received the license from the chancellor, which made him a licentiate. This formally gave him the right to seek admission into the arts faculty. To this end, he responded to questions for a year to demonstrate his learning. Those who survived this became members of the guild in a series of ceremonies called “inception”. In the English nation, the licentiate could not incept without promising to adhere to certain rules made by the universitas about 1280. He had to promise not to exceed the budget for his inception feast. This rule was frequently broken. He was to lecture in the arts faculty for two years after his inception. He was to give his lectures in proper academic dress. He was to deliver ordinary lectures for either fifteen or forty days (apparently the script here is damaged) in the same clothes. He was not allowed to wear pointed shoes or any kind of jewelry. He was forbidden to wear a surcoat slashed on the sides during these lectures. He had to attend faculty meetings, and obey the rector, in whose presence he promised to adhere to these rules. He was forbidden to attend dances or to tolerate dancing in his house, on pain of being expelled from the faculty. He incepted under the master whose apprentice he had been. He had to promise that as long as he was lecturing in the arts faculty he would not debate theological topics, such as the Trinity or the Incarnation. He also had to promise that if found out that one nation was going to be taking hostile actions against another one, he would tell the threatened nation, so as to prevent the members of this nation from suffering harm. Finally, he was to incept in his own cope, and not a borrowed one. He did this in the presence of the rector. At this point the “inception” ceremonies were held. On the eve of the inception ceremonies, a solemn disputation was held, called Vespers because it occurred at sunset. The next day, at the hour of tierce, the aula, another disputation, took place. It took two questions that had been raised, but not resolved, during the Vespers disputation. After the disputation the presiding master (Latin, “magister aulator”) performed the inception ceremony. He placed the masters’ hat, the biretta, on the new master’s head, and presented him with a book. Then the newly elected master gave his first lecture as a master. This lecture was called a “principium” after 1250; it had previously been called an introitus. He now had jus ubique docendi (Latin, meaning “right to teach”), the privilege of teaching in any stadium generale. The universitas of Paris did everything in their power to make theirs an exclusive group; they excluded candidates for the guild on moral as well as intellectual grounds. This system of rank for scholars came from the guild system; a student in the first four years of study corresponded to an apprentice; a student with the rank of bachelor, who taught under the supervision of a master, corresponded to a journeyman in a craft guild; and then, of course, the attainment of the rank of master corresponded to that of a master in the craft guilds. Only the masters were members of the guild. This system became the blueprint for other European universities that were founded later in the Middle Ages. In 1449, forty-three students at the University of Vienna underwent severe scrutiny for their right to incept. Seventeen were rejected, all on moral, none on intellectual, grounds. The word “magister” (Latin, “master”) was synonymous with “doctor”, which is derived from the Latin word doctus, the past participle of “doceo”, the verb meaning “to teach”.

Most students never advanced beyond baccalaureate status, but because of the extreme difficulty of attaining the rank of master, as well as the expense of attending classes for many years, there was no stigma attached to not graduating from a stadium generale. The students who did not become masters often became schoolmasters in grammar schools.

Competition to get into the theology school was intense, since so few schools had theology faculties. Those who got accepted into this school faced at least a decade of study. The first six years of the course consisted of listening to lectures. Four of these years were devoted to lectures on the Bible, and two of them were lectures on the Four Books of Sentences by Peter Lombard, who had been one of Abelard’s students. This Book of Sentences was a text called a gloss. In France, glosses first came into being during the cathedral school era, when masters lectured on the Bible using St. Jerome’s Vulgate; we have seen the law masters of Bologna doing this with the Code of Justinian. There was much commentary on this text in the cathedral and monastic schools. The commentary might be on syntax and grammar, or it might be on important issues of doctrinal interpretation. The masters would write notes for the commentary on the pages around the text. In the twelfth century Peter Lombard collected glosses from various texts and compiled them as one giant gloss; these became the Four Books of Sentences. At the end of the lectures on Lombard’s gloss, the student could apply for bachelor status within the theology faculty. To obtain this, the student had to pass an examination by seven doctors of theology. If he passed this, the new bachelor made a principium lecture. If he was not a member of a religious order, he then lectured on the Bible for two years. The first year he would lecture on a book of his choice from the Old Testament; the second year he would do the same with a book from the New Testament. During this period, the student was called a cursor, since he was giving “cursory” lectures (Latin, “lectiones cursorie”). These lectures were distinguished from the more formal “ordinary lectures” (“lectiones ordinarie”) given by members of religious orders, who were more advanced in theology because of their previous training. A cursory lecture was less detailed than an ordinary lecture. The cursors were not allowed to lecture during the hours that had been set aside for the ordinary lectures. Ordinary lectures started soon after dawn and could last until early afternoon. They were only given between October and Lent. After completing his cursory lectures, the student was required to take another examination called a “tentative”. He responded to questions posed to a master; after he gave his responses, senior bachelor students argued against them. The master and the bachelors together determined the student’s performance in the tentative. If he was judged favorably, and had spent nine years in the theology course, the student went on to one year of lecturing on Lombard’s “Sentences”. A student in the last phase of the bacherlorship was called a “formed bachelor” (Latin, “baccalaureus formatus”); this phase of study first appeared in the second half of the thirteenth century. This period lasted five years until 1335, when new regulations reduced it to four. During this period he participated in various forms of logical disputations. At long last the survivors applied for inception into the theology faculty. Masters had to attest to the morals and learning of each candidate. The inception process for these students was identical to the one for new masters of the arts.

If theology courses were few and far between, every university had a law faculty, although they did not all teach both civil and canon law. Civil law was banned by Pope Honorius III at Paris in 1219. The pope wished Paris to favor the study of theology over all over studies; he feared that a civil law program would lure students away from theology. The pope believed that canon law was adequate for any legal problems at Paris. Nevertheless, law and medicine at Paris merit at least a mention. The ban of the teaching of civil law was damaging to the teaching of canon law. Law attracted the wealthiest students and was the most lucrative vocation of the later Middle Ages. The course was modeled after that of Bologna. The structure of the course in medicine at Paris was similar to that of the other faculties, with disputations, lectures, and oral examinations. The earliest regulations for the medical faculty were issued between 1270 and 1274. They required four years of study for a baccalaureate and five and a half years for the license. With this license came the right to practice medicine in public. The entire curriculum of this faculty was known as the “Ars medicine”, the collection of Greek, Jewish and Arabic medical texts introduced by Constantine the African into Europe around 1060.

In the twelfth century, the masters and students believed that man’s capacity for knowledge was almost limitless. An anonymous twelfth century scholar states “We who have been endowed by nature with genius must seek through philosophy the stature of our primeval nature”. And Pope Gregory waxed eloquent in “Parens scientiarum” when he expressed his admiration and optimism for the stadium generale in Paris:


Paris, a city of letters, stands forth illustriously, great indeed, but concerning herself she causes greater things desired, full of favor for the teachers and the students.


Men were full of confidence; students arrived at the universities almost demanding that they be taught everything, since there was no doubt in their minds that this was possible. Medicine was also a study of nature, not just man; it was a study of man’s humors and elements, the same things that the universe comprised. It was a rational approach to treating the sick. The theology school at Paris was the greatest in Europe during this period. It was this school that became a fertile breeding ground to the most important intellectual movement of the Middle Ages, Scholasticism.





Medieval philosophers attempted to harmonize faith and reason through Scholasticism. There was no one “Scholastic philosophy”; instead, conflicting “Scholastic” philosophies were debated in universities and monasteries all over Europe. One of the first Scholastics was Peter Abelard, previously mentioned as the founder of the school at Montagne Sainte-Genevieve. Abelard was born in Brittany in 1079, the son of a seigneur. He gave up his inheritance, and left Brittany for studies in Paris; he could spend his life fighting with logic, not a sword. He arrived as a student in the cathedral school around 1100. He first attended several schools in Brittany, and was forever getting into heated arguments with his teachers. Brittany was already known for its schools at Nantes and several minor towns. He continued on his way to Paris, attending schools in Angers, Le Mans, and Chartres, which was known for its fine cathedral school. At Loches he was taught by one of the greatest scholars of his day, Roscelin, who had a profound impact on Abelard’s thought.

Roscelin (died ca. 1125) had an interesting career. He was at one point master of a school at Compiegne, but he soon angered his ecclesiastical superiors. In 1093 he was condemned by a council at Soissons, and made his way to England. There was trouble here, too; in England, clerical celibacy was not enforced, and he was shocked when he witnessed the ordination of sons of priests. After this he was appointed canon of St.—Martin—de—Tours where he ran into yet another conflict. There was at that time a traveling preacher from Brittany, Robert of Arbrissel. Robert was a particularly inspired speaker; his listeners claimed that listening to his sermons made them feel closer to God. He led a band of wandering followers which included knights, highborn ladies, clerics, and even prostitutes. These formed their own Order, the Order of Fontevrault. Roscelin disapproved of this Order and wasted no effort in condemning them. Later on in his career Roscelin was severely criticized by Ivo of Chartres, a scholar of canon law. Ivo accused Roscelin of “seeking to appear wiser than was proper”. After this Roscelin went to Loches to teach, where he taught his most famous student, Peter Abelard. Roscelin’s claim to fame was the fact that he was one of, if not the first, scholar of the period to call into question the Neo-Platonist concept of “universals”. This caused a storm of controversy; no doubt this is what angered his ecclesiastical superiors, since these were taken seriously by churchmen under the influence of St. Augustine.

Why did Roscelin question this important doctrine? No one knows what specifically motivated him. The Platonists and their medieval followers, the Neo-Platonists, looked at the world and saw only transient, ever-changing things they called “particulars”. These particulars could be different people, different trees, or different dogs. The Platonists thought that the particulars were only vague reflections of reality. Universals were the collective ideas like man, trees, and dogs, not the particular dogs or trees we see. These universals are eternal and unchanging, unlike a particular dog, which is born, lives a number of years, and dies. Likewise, “man” is a universal, eternal and unchanging in the abstract reality of the Platonists. Individuals were only recognized by these philosophers as “particulars”, a vague reflection of the universal “man”.

The dispute marked a turning point in European thought. Not only were philosophers tossing out the notion that individuality is deceptive, they were asserting their personalities like no one in the early Middle Ages had done. In his autobiography, “The History of My Calamities” Abelard described his own idiosyncratic personality and gave graphic descriptions of the various difficulties he had in his life, including some that were socially unacceptable to the times. Contained in this book is an attack on the Platonic emphasis on the general and universal and a bold advocacy of individualism. This was a stark departure from the “Confessions” of St. Augustine of Hippo (354—430), which was also an autobiography. Augustine had emphasized man’s sinfulness and insignificance in a relationship to the omnipotence of God, and his book reads like that of a member of a community of lost pilgrims in search of a home, Paradise. He had no concept of himself as an individual with individual traits; everyone struggled against sin and Augustine saw no difference between other Christians and himself. Augustine never cased to be a Platonist, and his philosophy dominated early medieval Europe. During this period, there was no recognition of personality and individuality; there was only awareness of the universal and the general. Everyone was conforming to the same ideals.

Roscelin argued that universals were subjective notions, mere names, not tangibly objective realities. Philosophers who agreed with him were called “nominalists” (from Latin “nomina”, meaning “names”). They clashed with other philosophers who insisted that universals were reality. The Neo-Platonists were called “realists”. Roscelin taught Abelard. Abelard took a moderately nominalist position in the dispute, he acknowledged that universals could exist, in the mind, if not physically. The more “extreme” nominalists, more focused on the physical aspect of universals, denied the existence of universals anywhere.

The most visible sign of this change in the Christian world view was the veneration of particular masters in the cathedral schools, like Abelard. Between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries, great teachers were celebrities, attracting students from all over Christendom. It is no wonder that Abelard had an inflated ego; never a modest person, his students held him in such high esteem that he developed the personality traits that are similar to modern “celebrities”. The road had been paved for the recognition of the great artists and intellectuals of the Renaissance.

In 1120 Abelard wrote his most famous work, “Sic et Non” (“Yes and No”), which employed dialectical logic in analyzing 156 topics, all dealing with articles of the Christian faith. Abelard’s dialectical logic was a departure from Aristotle’s in that stated an argument (“yes”) and another argument against the first one (“no”), but not a resolution of these conflicts. A thesis was a philosophical concept; an antithesis was an argument against the thesis, and a synthesis was the resolution of the conflict. Abelard never avowed authorship of the text; the only medieval reference to it was in a letter from a cleric to St. Bernard dating from 1140. The cleric claimed that it was a strange text circulated by Abelard’s students. Abelard’s sources included the Bible, the Fathers of the early Church, and many old Roman classics, including, strangely enough, Ovid’s “Art of Loving”, a highly erotic book. “Sic et Non” was an explosive work because of its intense and uncompromising focus on using reason to analyze faith. Prior to the twelfth century, Christian theologians had distrusted human reason and deemed it incompatible with Christian faith.  “Sic et Non” gave dialectic a logical basis, and provided a blueprint for all Scholastic disputation. It introduced elements of inquiry and questioning into the study of theology. But “Sic et Non” was tame compared to his next work, “On the Divine Unity and Trinity”, which he also wrote for his inquisitive students. This work caused Abelard to be accused of teaching that the Trinity consisted of three Gods. He was called to defend his controversial work at a council in Soissons in 1121. When he arrived in Soissons, he was pelted with rocks and verbal abuse from irate citizens, who had been told that Abelard was a thoroughly evil heretic who deserved the worst. Abelard did not get a chance to defend his book before the council; his enemies feared that if was given the chance to debate with others concerning the controversy, he would convince the council that he was innocent of heresy since he was almost invincible in debate. “The Divine Unity and Trinity” was condemned as heretical by the council, and Abelard was forced to throw the book into a fire. As penance, Abelard was confined in a nearby abbey. Abelard’s humiliation turned into triumph with the flowering of the Scholastic movement. The door had been opened for later Scholastics like Albertus Magnus (1201—1280) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225—1274), who would follow in his footsteps in harmonizing faith and reason.

One of Abelard’s most famous students was an Englishman called John of Salisbury; he concern over the death of grammar at Paris has been noted above. John was born in Old Sarum, near the present town of Salisbury, a cathedral town of England, around 1115. He received his early schooling from a parish priest, and then pursued further studies in Chartres and Paris. He attended Abelard’s lectures at Sainte-Genevieve where he acquired, he tells us, “the first rudiments of the art of logic and as far as my small talents permitted I received with all the avidity of my mind whatever fell from his lips”. Besides Abelard, he studied with another brilliant dialectician, Alberic, who was a staunch realist; he also studied with a great grammarian, Conches, for three years. In the early 1150’s John went to Rome, where he became the secretary to the only Englishman ever elected pope, Adrian IV (Nicholas Breakspear). In 1153 he returned to England and became the secretary of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobold. At this time the head of the archbishops’ chancery was another English cleric who had studied with him in Paris, Thomas Becket. John and Thomas became close friends. Henry II disliked John; he considered him a papal agent.  After Theobold died, Thomas Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury. John witnessed the heated dispute between the King and the Archbishop, and went into exile in 1163, before Becket did, and stayed with another friend, Pierre de Celle, abbot of Rheims. He wrote several books during this exile, all in strong defense of Becket. He was in the hall at Canterbury when the four knights who killed the archbishop arrived on 29 December 1170, but he probably fled before the actual killing. He spent the next few years writing Thomas’ biography, and he was instrumental in getting him canonized as a martyr. This got him elected to the bishopric of Chartres, where he spent the last four years of his life.

John had written several books. One of them, called “Policratus”, or “Statesman’s Guide” was ostensibly about the follies of courtiers; it was actually a book on political philosophy, one of the first of its kind written by an Englishman. It spells out the ideal character and duties of a ruler, and contrasts these with the heavy-handed rule of a tyrant. John also wrote “Historia pontificalis”, a book of church history was intended as a continuation of the chronicles compiled by an obscure scholar of the twelfth century. It was made up of character descriptions of the major leaders and scholars of the Church. John wrote it while attending the council of Rheims in 1152, where he met many of the people included in the book. John was very concerned with the impact of education on students. Although the above-quoted poem provides much in the way of amusement, with its contemporary feel, John was very serious when he wrote of students abandoning the Greek and Roman classics. To John, the purpose of education was to teach people to lead moral lives, and he disliked some of the effect of the new learning, which sent many in search of wealth and glory to the detriment of their morals. Thus he became a critic of some of the knowledge that he himself had acquired. He disliked the emphasis on intelligence at the expense of moral character. John was a strong advocate of the teaching of the great Latin writers like Virgil, Livy and Cicero; he felt that they had espoused principles of human dignity and self-restraint. This outlook anticipated that of the Renaissance, in which he would felt at home.

 Abelard had had only one piece of the vast Aristotelian corpus available to him, the book on dialectics that had been translated into Latin by Boethius. The Moslem cultures had preserved the works of Aristotle, the Europeans had not. Because of the Moorish conquest of most of Spain, that country acquired many Arabic translations of Aristotle. Between the second third of the twelfth century and the first third of the thirteenth century scholars from all over Europe converged in Spain and Provence and translated many of Aristotle’s works from the Arabic to the Latin. By 1200 many of his works were available in Europe. In 1210 the bishops of Sens and Paris issued a condemnation of the teachings of Aristotle in natural philosophy and metaphysics; anyone found reading these works was to be excommunicated. In 1215 Robert de Courzon’s regulations forbade the study of Aristotle at Paris, as did “Parens scientiarum”.  Nonetheless, all of the works of Aristotle appeared in the syllabus issued by the arts faculty in 1254. Pope Alexander IV renewed the ban by re-issuing “Parens scientiarum” in 1263, but it was ignored by the arts and theology faculties, at whom it had been aimed.

            Albertus, called “Magnus” for his academic achievements, was born in Swabia, in what is now Germany, in 1201, the son of a rich count of Bollstadt. Like Abelard, he gave up his inheritance for scholarship. He joined the Dominican Order and devoted his life to education as all Dominicans did. He never formulated a philosophy of his own, but he familiarized European scholars with the works and philosophy of Aristotle, as well as the works of great Moslem and Jewish scholars. Albertus taught Thomas Aquinas, also a Dominican, at both Paris and Cologne.

Thomas Aquinas was born in Italy, in the castle of Roccasecca, a younger son the Count Landulf of Aquino. His mother was descended from the Viking rulers of Sicily, and through her he was related to the Emperor Frederick II; he was well equipped with lineage. Thomas started his education at the abbey of Monte Cassino, which had been founded by St. Benedict in the sixth century, when he was six years old. In 1239 the monks who were teaching him were expelled from Monte Cassino, and Thomas made his way to the University of Naples, where he entered the Dominican Order, much to the dismay of his parents. The Order sent him to Paris to study theology. On his way to Paris, he was kidnapped by two of his brothers, and was kept in the castle for a year. His family tried to talk him out of becoming a monk, but it was all in vain. His firm resolve impressed his parents, and his mother helped him escape.

Once in Paris, he began his studied under Albertus, who familiarized him with the works of Aristotle. In 1257 he incepted into the theology faculty in Paris and did much of his teaching and writing there. He used the dialectical system in his works; unlike Abelard, he provided answers to the questions he used. In his works, he attempted to harmonize the Christian faith with the philosophy of Aristotle. Aristotle had argued that all of the objects of our existence consist of formed matter that changes in a particular pattern that is usually purposeful. Acorns always grow into trees, for example. Aquinas claimed that since objects are always changing, something must be causing this change. These causes exist either in the sense of a prior event, or a reason for the occurrence of the event. One can trace back from effects to causes ad infinitum, or one can stop at one ultimate cause for everything. This one ultimate cause, according to Aquinas, is God. If one argues for causes ad infinitum, he said, one will never get to the beginning of the series of causes, which is to say that the beginning doesn’t exist. If there is no beginning element to the causal sequence, then there is no second or third, and one is confronted with a nonsensical proposition. Aquinas’ greatest work was his massive “Summa Theologica”, intended to be the sum of all known learning.

The “Summa Theologica” got a hostile response from most churchmen, who thought it a scandalous promotion of a “pagan” philosophy, that of Aristotle, at the expense of orthodox Christian doctrine. The mystical Franciscans, always in conflict with the Dominicans, were outraged over Aquinas’ intellectual approach to Christianity. In 1277, three years after Aquinas’ death, the bishop of Paris declared 219 of Aquinas’ propositions heretical. A dispute over these propositions followed. Several scholars jumped to the defense of the philosopher. Dante played a part in the dispute by using Thomistic philosophy in his masterpiece “The Divine Comedy”. In this work he cast Thomas in the role as his guide on the stairway to the highest heavens. The dispute dragged on for fifty years, during which time Aquinas’ ideas became more and more acceptable to the Church. The Dominicans were instrumental in getting Aquinas canonized in 1323.

Siger of Brabant (c. 1240—c. 1284) incepted into the Picard nation sometime after 1260; he was from what is now Belgium. He was involved in an illegal capture of a canon of Tulle in August of 1266, and had to undergo severe penance on pain of being expelled from the Picard nation. His collision course with the faculty continued when he claimed that both Albertus and Aquinas had misinterpreted Aristotle, and insisted that a Moorish philosopher, Abu al-Walid Muhammed ibn Rushd, known to Europeans as Averroes, had done a far superior job of interpreting the works of Aristotle. Siger’s philosophy has been explained to us by his enemies; thus, the exact character of his philosophy is not clear. It is known that Siger, like Averroes, argued that the universe was eternal and had never come into being; hence, these philosophers rejected the doctrine of Creation. They also claimed that personal immortality was an illusion; the only eternal life was lived by collective souls, not individual ones. These teachings were condemned in 1269 by the Bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier. Nonetheless, the Averroeist movement at Paris was so strong that in 1271 Siger was nominated as a candidate for the rectorship. Siger continued to teach at Paris until 1277, when his teachings, along with those of Aquinas, were denounced as heretical. In October of that year, Siger was condemned by the Inquisition. He was imprisoned at Orvieto, Italy, as a prisoner of the Roman Curia, and was slain by a fanatical notary. Strangely, Siger appears in Dante’s “Divine Comedy” in Paradise, in such unlikely company as Aquinas and several other saints of the church. His contemporaries would have just as soon seen him in Hell.

All of these ideas were very unsettling to the conservatives, who also had a presence in Paris.  They felt that they had to preserve Christianity from what they perceived as dangerous logical intrusion into the faith. They were mostly Franciscans with a mystical and Platonic orientation. The greatest of these scholars was Giovanni di Fidanza (1221—1274), who incepted into the theology universitas in 1257 on the same day as Aquinas. He is known to history as Bonaventura (Italian, “good luck”) because he survived a potentially fatal childhood disease. Bonaventura, like Aquinas, was born in Italy. When he entered the Franciscan Order, he was sent to Paris to study theology. Like other Franciscans, Bonaventura distrusted logic. He preferred Plato to Aristotle, and adopted Plato’s doctrine of the soul. These Franciscans believed that the soul existed independently of the body, and was a captive of the body. They objected to the Aristotelian doctrine of the soul as the “substantial form” of the body. To Bonaventura, true knowledge could not possibly come by way of sensory perceptions; it was only possible only through spiritual intuition of the soul. God was to be felt, not understood. Bonaventura believed that the good was more powerful and more important than the truth; simple virtue was preferable to knowledge of all of the sciences.




In the crisis-plagued fourteenth century, the appreciation of man’s potential gave way to depression over man’s plight. Scholasticism, which had once been so daring, had become stale. Academic disputations became formalized and lost much of their excitement. The university’s scholars continued to study and expound thirteenth century concerns during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which the scholars of Italy bravely moved into new territory. Learning in France remained static until the new ideas of the Italians moved northward in the sixteenth century. There was an absence of leadership in Europe, evident in the relocation of the papacy to Avignon, in 1309, with the pope a virtual prisoner of the King of France. All of France’s political enemies became enemies of the pope. Corruption in the Church, never absent, became more evident in the fourteenth century. Everything was for sale, whether it was a lucrative bishopric or the legitimization of a child—usually the child of a priest. In 1347 a strain of bacteria called Pasteurella pestus arrived in Europe, and caused a calamity of unprecedented proportions. This was the Black Death, which wiped out at least a third of Europe. Ironically, the very activity that had been responsible for the growth of the universities, commerce, was the means by which the plague spread throughout Europe. The bacteria spread along the trade routes of Europe, and returned in 1361 and 1368. Fear of the bubonic plague ruled the minds of Europe, not books and masters. Even the once—proud Rue de Fouarre, famous for its arts schools in the thirteenth century, attracted some royal ire in 1358 when the heir to the French throne issued this missive:


Charles, firstborn of the King of France, regent of the realm, duke of Normandy and dauphin of Vienne.  We make it known to men……..the Rue de Fouarre was assigned to masters and scholars for the purpose of giving and hearing lectures……now with increasing malice of men and the enemy of science (knowledge) sowing tares among the wheat, in the said street at night filth and refuse are brought and left there………what is more horrible…..at night the entrances of the schools are broken into by panders and foulest men who desire to impede the pearl of science. Impure women are also brought into the schools……in the morning, they find such a disgraceful and stinking mess that they flee.


The Rue de Fouarre, like Paris itself, had seen brighter days. Meanwhile, the guilds fell apart along the lines of masters, journeymen, and apprentices. By the fourteenth century these guilds were corporations which were run by employers in which the workers had no voice. Angry French peasants revolted in 1320 and 1358. The Hundred Years’ War broke out in 1337. The faculty of Paris acquired much political power and became mired in political disputes. In 1378, when a political dispute resulted in the election of two popes, two of the nations, the French and the Normans, as well as the high faculty, that of medicine, law, and theology, supported one claimant; the other two nations supported the other. These schools, the English and the Picards, left Paris and went to other schools. These political activities and disputes diminished the prestige of the University of Paris but the most powerful politicians on the planet could not erase the remarkable achievements of the school’s scholars. They had led the phenomenal flowering of learning of the High Middle Ages.






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