Sorbonne, The, of Paris

Sorbonne, The, Of Paris, originally a seminary for indigent young men preparing for the secular priesthood, but in course of time a college of learned men whose influence over theological thought was widely recognized. This body of scholars has frequently, but erroneously, been identified with the theological faculty of the University of Paris, and also with the university itself.

The University of Paris may trace its origin to the time of Alcuin, inasmuch as an uninterrupted current of teaching extends from that period until the present. But there was then no organization of faculties. William of Champeaux and Abelard taught philosophy and theology, and especially dialectics, at the beginning of the 12th century, but in any place where opportunity was afforded. During that century the Corpus Universitatis was founded, and it was fully organized, being divided into three faculties, etc., when the Sorbonne was opened. The founder of this college, the canon Robert of Sorbon or Sorbonne, in Champagne, was chaplain to Louis IX. His purpose was to assist poor young men in securing a theological education by affording them free tuition and training for the service of the Church. He obtained a site with a few buildings from the crown domains in the street Coupe-gorge, and there built his school. The proper spiritual authorities granted the necessary license for the institution of a Congregatio pauperum magistrorum studentium in theologica facultate, and pope Clement confirmed it in A.D. 1268. The school began with sixteen students, four taken from each of the four parts into which the university was divided; but its fame grew so rapidly that in a brief time over four hundred pupils thronged its halls. Eminent men were called to occupy its theological chairs, the first being William of Saint-Amour, Endes of Douai, and Laurent L'Anglois; and finally a preparatory school was added, called the College de Calvi, and more generally known as the Little Sorbonne, designed for five hundred boys.

The principal source of the reputation in which the school was held, and of the influence it exercised over school, Church, and State, and particularly over theology and philosophy, is to be found in the fact that many docteurs and bacheliers of the house associated themselves with the teachers as resident guests, and joined in the harmonious and earnest pursuit of a common object, thus constituting a compact society for the promotion of learning. The union of powers in the association of the Sorbonne was perfect, and the government firm. A proviseur had control of general and external affairs, and regulated the intercourse with the outer world, with the university, and with all authorities. Though subordinated to the university, the proviseur held a position of such dignity that none ventured to infringe upon his rights. He was at first chosen from among the professors, but later from the number of most eminent prelates, and was consequently able to afford protection and impart lustre to the institution over which he presided. Internal matters were regulated by a senieur des docteurs.

For admission to a permanent residence in the Sorbonne it was required of a baccalaureus artium that he should teach philosophy in any college of the university, and that he should defend the These Robertine, even before he could obtain the licence en Theologie. Once admitted, the associates were divided into two classes, the fellows and the guests, the latter being affiliated, but not incorporated, with the house. The privilege of such residence was eagerly sought after. It appears, however, that doctors of theology connected with other colleges were also called docteurs en Sorbonne, perhaps because the theological faculty was accustomed to hold its regular meetings in the halls of the Sorbonne, and they actually were doctors of the Sorbonne, inasmuch as they had there acquired their title by defending a thesis. If to all this be added the fact that the theological professors of several colleges were invariably taken from the Sorbonne, it will be easy to understand how the mistake of identifying the Sorbonne with the theological faculty of the university originated.

The Sorbonne has during its career pursued two leading tendencies — that of reconciling theology with philosophy, and that of preserving theology in orthodox purity and unquestioned supremacy. Philological and philosophical studies were taught in its halls; but its spirit and importance, as well as its true merit, are to be sought in its theological effectiveness alone. The apparatus of learning was at first too meager to admit of noticeable results. Down to the 14th century the study of Latin constituted the whole of philology. Philosophy stimulated theological inquiry, but theology could lay no claim to a scientific character. It had no exegesis, and could not presume to a knowledge of dogmatics. The students lacked books, the teachers acquaintance with the most necessary languages. But under the circumstances, and according to its opportunity, the Sorbonne watched over the orthodoxy of theology according to the councils and the fathers, though such supervision belonged to the diocesan. Its influence was, however, exercised indirectly over the theological faculty, the university, and even the conseils du roi. The Sorbonne as an association did not appear publicly in defense of doctrine, or send representatives to Church councils, or take part in political meetings. Statements made to that effect must be understood as referring to the university or the theological faculty rather than the Sorbonne; though the fact that all the principal doctors belonged to the Sorbonne assured her practical participation in all important affairs. More than once it opposed the collection of Peter's pence and the Inquisition. In April, 1531, it condemned several tenets taken from Luther's writings, and during the Reformation of the 16th century it laid under the ban of its censure a long list of writings by different authors, some of them even the works of eminent bishops, and one of them the Catholic version of the Bible by Rene Benoit.

It is to be noted that in all this the Sorbonne was not a blind agent of the Church. It contended against all Protestant aspirations, but also against all Jesuitical assumptions. It was the earliest defender of the Gallican liberties and of the accepted doctrines of the Church. When the cardinal of Lorraine had procured from Henry II the right to build a Jesuits college in Paris, the Sorbonne declared the Order of Jesuits dangerous, to the faith, the peace of the Church, and the monastic discipline. When Martin Becan published his Controversia Anglicana de Potestate Regis et Ponticis (1612), and queen Marie de Medicis forbade the intervention of the Sorbonne, the latter, nevertheless, denounced the book as dangerous to morality, etc. It defended the purity of the received doctrines against even the pope and the curia. Of 128 doctors, only forty-nine were ready to accept the bull Unigenitus without protest, though the absolute king Louis XIV favored it and many declared themselves directly opposed to its reception.

The Sorbonne, i.e. the theological faculty, considered itself the guardian of a pure faith and the scientific organ of the Church down to the beginning of the 18th century. In 1717 it put forth an effort, on the occasion of the presence of Peter the Great in Paris, to bring about the union of the Greek and Roman churches. It was at the time the highest authority in the Gallican Church in matters of theology. Political interferences, which could not be wholly avoided in the condition of affairs, finally undermined its influence. It released the subjects of Henry III from their allegiance, and its preachers counselled resistance, to the degree of regicide. It declared Henry IV, the legitimate heir to the crown, unworthy, and debarred because of obstinate persistence in heresy. Still more was done by its mistakes in philosophy to hasten its ruin. In 1624 it secured from the Parliament a decree forbidding any person to teach contrary to the doctrines of approved authors — the resolution being aimed at Des Cartes, in defense of Aristotle. Neither the Meditations of Des Cartes nor the works of Malebranche, Fenelon, Bossuet, and Leibnitz could arouse the slumbering intelligence of the learned faculty. But the issuing, by Boileau, of the burlesque Arret donne en la Grande Chambre du Parnasse exposed the position of the Sorbonne to ridicule, and rendered any further invoking, of legal aid to the defense of Aristotle impossible. This was followed, in 1751, by Voltaire's Le Tombeau de la Sorbonne Oeuvres de Voltaire, par Chr. Beuchot, 39, 534). In this work special emphasis was laid on the fact that Des Cartes' Idees Innees were now defended by the Sorbonne as a bulwark of religion, though he had been at first denounced by the same authority as a most destructive heretic, etc. The position became more difficult with every day, until the decrees of 1789 and 1790 confiscated the property and financial resources of the Sorbonne for the benefit of the nation. About two thousand manuscripts were transferred to the Bibliotheque Nationale, while the printed works were distributed among different libraries in the metropolis. The buildings came into the possession of the imperial university in 1807, and have been used as residences for professors, deans, rectors, etc. The three faculties, Theologie, Lettres, and Sciences, delivered their lectures and held their examinations, and the minister of public instruction distributed the annual prizes of the concours general in the halls of the Sorbonne. The monument of Richelieu still adorns the chapel. He was a former pupil, and had caused the ancient and narrow rooms to be replaced with the modern palace like edifices which are yet remembered. The modern Bibliotheque de la Sorbonne, or de l'Universite, possesses nothing whatever of the former library. Even the homilies of Robert of Sorbon, written by his own hand, are in the National Library. Theology, philosophy, and philology still meet within its walls, and perhaps each retains some measure of the former spirit; but the substance and form are of the 19th century. The course of many prominent professors of the Sorbonne, following the example of Laromiguere and Royer- Collard, in connection with the political and social revolutions of the period from 1817 to 1830, is familiarly known. No other school in Europe has played such a role as the Sorbonne. In the domains of politics and the Church its influence was perhaps too prominently exercised, and perhaps no adequate results were produced in philosophy, theology, and science generally, in comparison with the means and opportunity enjoyed.

See Bulaeus, Hist. Universit. Paris. (Paris, 1665, and often, 6 vols. fol.), censured by the Sorbonne; Crevier, Hist. de. l'Univers. de Paris (ibid. 1761, 7 vols. 12mo), extracted from Bulaeus, and extending only to A.D. 1600; Duvernet, Hist. de la Sorbonne. etc. (ibid. 1790, 2 vols. 8vo), declamatory; Dubarle, Hist. de l'Univ. de Paris (ibid. 1844, 2 vols. 8vo); Prat, Maldonat et l Univ. de Paris au 16e Siecle (ibid. 1856, 8vo); Encycl. des Sciences et des Arts (Neuchatel, 1775), tom. 15; Bergier, Dict. de Theol. s.v.; "Sorbonne" in the Encycl. Methodique, tom. 3 (Paris, 1790); Hist. de l'Eglise Gallicane, tom. 12, liv. 34, to A.D. 1272. See also Vies des Peres et des Martyrs, 7, 625; Saint-Savin, Oeuvres de Boileau- Despreaux, etc. (Par. 1821), 3, 111; Beuchot [Chr.], Oeuvres de Voltaire, 39, 534.

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