- The university as known in the European world was a creation of the 12th and 13th centuries. Bologna, which was Italy's oldest university, emerged out of the teaching of law in that city dur-ing the late 11th century and gradually developed institutional forms and practices during the 12th century. Paris, the archetype of a very different sort of university, grew out of the earlier cathedral school of the city's bishop and gradually developed institutions and customs during the 12th century as the guild (in Latin, universitas) of masters was organized and took control of teaching and the qualification of students for degrees, though the ecclesiastical authority still retained a monopoly on the formal conferring of degrees, normally done by the bishop's chancellor on recommendation of the faculty. Paris re-ceived a royal charter in 1200, and in 1231 the papacy issued its own charter defining and limiting the authority of the chancellor and also recognizing the existence of the guild of teachers.The University of Bologna was legally a corporation of students who banded together to secure an education and to defend their rights against oppressive actions (such as excessive rents) by local citizens. But the city government appointed the professors, and the professors in each field of study formed a college which defined the conditions of eligibility to teach (essentially, the requirements for degrees). At Bologna and the other Italian universities, the organization of students was dominant, no doubt because the Italian universities arose as insti-tutions for the teaching of professional subjects, law and medicine, and students arrived as young men with most of their pre-professional education already completed. This Italian organizational pattern also prevailed in Spain and southern France.The Northern universities, however, followed the organizational pattern developed at Paris during the 12th and 13th centuries. They were controlled by the guild of teachers. Students were kept in a dis-tinctly subordinate role, no doubt because students entered at a much younger age, usually 13 or 14 years. While they were expected to have already attained competence in Latin, they had to pass through the academic program of the faculty of liberal arts, receiving bache-lor of arts and master of arts degrees from the university, before they were eligible to enter one of the professional faculties. Most North-ern universities were organized into four faculties, a faculty of liberal arts, which more and more concentrated instruction on those subjects (such as logic) that were judged useful for success in the three higher faculties; a faculty of theology; a faculty of law (commonly subdi-vided into canon law and civil law); and a faculty of medicine. But not every university taught in all faculties. In all Northern universi-ties, the faculty of liberal arts, which enrolled boys at an early age and conferred B.A. and M.A. degrees, was by far the largest because graduation with its degrees was required for entry into the three higher (that is, professional) faculties.Italian universities differed in structure as well as in governance. At Bologna and Padua, the faculty of arts was combined with (and sub-ordinated to) the faculty of medicine, and the faculty of law was for centuries organized as an entirely separate university. In the Italian universities, there was no separate faculty of theology. All or nearly all teaching of theology occurred within the study-houses of the vari-ous monastic orders, and a college of theologians (including some graduate theologians who never taught at all) examined candidates and granted theological doctorates in the name of the university.Once established on one or the other of these two lines (the Bologna model or the Paris model), the program of studies in each faculty rather quickly became fixed, and introduction of changes met resistance. There were differences from one university to another, but the program in each of the four faculties was sufficiently standard that students and professors could move from one university to another fairly easily, a process facilitated by the practice of conducting all in-struction in Latin. Universities multiplied in number. By 1400 there were already 29 in Europe. New foundations continued through the 14th and 15th centuries. In 15th-century Germany, many of the new foundations were made by rulers of the semi-independent principali-ties. During the 16th century, Germany also developed several new universities intended to meet the needs of rival religious groups and to ensure that local boys could receive their education close to home without danger of doctrinal contamination. By 1601 there were 63 Eu-ropean universities. Only England, a relatively small country, resisted the temptation to found new universities: Oxford and Cambridge re-mained the country's only universities until the 19th century, though England also developed a unique set of institutions, the Inns of Court, to prepare men for the practice of English common law. Although Paris had several thousand students, most medieval universities were small. Especially in the North, many young men entered the univer-sity, remained for a few years (sometimes, but not always, engaging seriously in study), and then departed without taking any degree at all.The tight organization and highly articulated traditional programs of these universities made them resistant to the desire of Renaissance humanists to change the program of studies, especially in the faculty of liberal arts, in order to give greater emphasis to the study of an-cient languages (Greek, Hebrew, and classical Latin). This situation could breed conflict as academic reformers struggled to introduce new humanistic courses and to reduce the time spent on the study of old medieval textbooks and the subjects most useful for traditional scholastic subjects. In Italy, such conflict seems to have been rare, largely because the liberal-arts subjects were incorporated into the professional faculties of law and medicine and because the students, older by several years when they first enrolled, had already com-pleted most of their study of the liberal-arts subjects in lower schools or with the aid of tutors.In some Northern European universities, however, the effort to in-troduce humanistic educational reforms led to internal conflict, with the senior faculty, who controlled the university, stubbornly trying to preserve the same studies and textbooks that had been used in their own education and exploiting their power within the institution to si-lence, punish, or even expel reformers who pushed too hard for change. In Germany, the friction between defenders of medieval tra-dition and humanistic educational reformers became extremely heated in several places and sometimes produced open conflict. The use of printed pamphlets and manifestoes became common, and both conservatives and reformers appealed to external authorities — the city council, the regional prince, or even the pope or the emperor— to help them overcome their rivals.The movement for university reform in Germany began to win the upper hand in some places (such as Erfurt, Wittenberg, and Vienna) in the first two decades of the 16th century, but the academic re-formers made their most rapid gains in places where the Reforma-tion triumphed, since the territorial princes who made the decision whether or not to adopt the Reformation were generally the patrons and ultimate rulers of the territorial university and favored humanis-tic educational reforms as a way of preparing the next generation of Protestant leaders. In a number of places where Catholicism retained control, such as Ingolstadt, where the dukes of Bavaria upheld the old religion and used the universities as a source of intellectual defense against Protestant heresy, the political authority also intervened in fa-vor of humanistic educational reforms. Other universities, such as Cologne, strongly resisted both humanistic educational changes and Protestant heresy, though most of these anti-humanist schools suf-fered both in enrollment and in revenues.Even in places where humanist educational reformers gained sub-stantial success, the reformers neither attained nor desired a total abo-lition of all parts of the medieval scholastic tradition. The humanist program of study did not embrace all branches of academic learning, but chiefly defined changes needed in the studia humanitatis (hu-manism). In most fields of natural philosophy and dialectic, tradi-tional textbooks and philosophical practices survived. In particular, the authority of Aristotle as the guide to the methods and problems of university study, though criticized on some points of detail, re-mained dominant because there was no alternative set of treatises that could match the orderly, systematic, and generally clear writings of Aristotle. Though an increasing number of students of natural phi-losophy (especially in Italy, where the universities had developed a flourishing tradition of scientific study) became dissatisfied with Aristotelian science, Aristotelian ideas of scientific logic, and Aris-totelian assumptions about the nature of reality (metaphysics), there was no viable substitute, and scholastic science, though modified al-most everywhere to some degree by humanistic influence, survived intact until the middle of the 17th century, when the non-Aristotelian natural science developed by Galileo and other dissatisfied scientific investigators finally began to overturn the centuries-long domination of Aristotle as the guide to the methods and basic principles of scien-tific learning.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.