Medieval Universities

In the Middle Ages, especially from the 11th century, there is an intense urbanization, and many more cities are created than during Roman times. This process of urbanization has very important consequences for the West. Cities are places where people buy and sell. This is an incipient capitalist economy.

All cities have a lord, but somehow the inhabitants of the village manage to make themselves heard and respected. All this also implies a cultural change. The youth of the middle and lower classes demanded to know and traveled great distances to look for masters who quenched those anxieties.

The nobility, however, abstained from this requirement. In books written in Latin, universal language, and without any kind of subsidy, students sometimes read and argued passionately about the knowledge of the time, in places called “studium generale”.

From the Church, a search for answers to the request was made. Biblical knowledge and its teaching, which until then had been reserved for the hierarchical members of the Church, was to be more widespread. Thus arose the orders of the Dominicans, with Aristotelian influence, and that of the Franciscans, followers of Plato. The method of study used was the scholastic, which consisted of taking the biblical statements and trying to demonstrate them in a rational way, with support for the argument of authority.

The highest representatives of scholasticism were St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas, both of the order of the Dominicans, and Scotus belonging to the Franciscans. Their formation tended to form useful intellectuals to the Christian community. Thus, the faculties considered significant were those of Theology, Medicine, and Law, and those aimed at the study of art or philosophy were deemed to be minor faculties.

Islam also made a significant contribution. It was the Arabs who, after beginning their domination in Spain, translated the Greek and Hellenistic philosophical texts into Latin, like the Jews. The library of Cordoba came to have 400,000 texts. The word “university” is a Latin term, “Universitas”, which means a whole, an integrity, applied to any type of organization or legal entity that has a legitimate purpose.

At that time of existence of guilds or corporations, the intellectuals had also constituted one in defense of their interests. The University of Bologna was a reference in the field of Law with the study of the Roman laws. This university, the first university in the world, arose under the impulse of Irnerio and his disciples. Irnerio, professor of grammar in Bologna, in order to support the papal authority, went to Rome to find support for his theory of the pre-eminence of religious power. The power of the emperor was supported by the teachers of the school of Ravenna.

In the library of the city of Pisa, Irnerius discovered a manuscript containing part of the Digest, opinions of the Roman jurists who had been compiled by the Emperor Justinian. The study of the Digest was constituted in his passion, being famous the school that formed from then on, that illuminated to the nascent University of Bologna. Not only were Italians, but members of countries from all over Europe who returned to their places of origin and graduated laid the foundations for the birth of new universities.

In addition to the study of laws, Bologna could be studied medicine, theology, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and pharmacy. Disciples of Irnerio like Piacentino and Vacario were the forerunners of the founding of the schools of Montpellier in France and the one of Oxford (1167) in England, respectively. Of the one of Oxford, the University of Cambridge (1209), formed by some members in dissidence, was dismembered. They were also influenced by the Bologna school, and Spanish universities were created in the 13th century. The first was that of Palencia (1208) and then those of Valencia and Salamanca. The latter was the work of Alfonso IX, (1220) being elevated to University by Fernando III, on April 6, 1224. It was founded as the Literary University of Salamanca, linking letters with knowledge in general.

A little later LĂ©rida emerged in Catalonia. The medical sciences had their main academic representation in the University of Salerno, where they had received great Arab and Jewish influence. Medicine, in addition to religion, laws, and art, was also taught at the University of Paris, the second university, founded in 1150, where the work of Peter Abelard was noted. This school had significant influence in the birth of the one of Oxford.

The Great Theological University of Paris, born as College of Sorbonne, was defended by the Church and controlled by it regarding the contents that were given, which were to stick to the biblical teachings. It was the Modern Age, with its humanistic ideas, the division of Christianity and the Renaissance movement, which is going to subtract the influence of the church in the universities.

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