Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman

IT is most interesting to observe how the foundations of the present intellectual greatness of Europe were laid, and most wonderful to think that they were ever laid at all. Let us consider how wide and how high is the platform of our knowledge at this day, and what openings in every direction are in progress,—openings of such promise, that, unless some convulsion of society takes place, even what we have attained, will in future times be nothing better than a poor beginning; and then on the other hand, let us recollect that, seven centuries ago, putting aside revealed truths, Europe had little more than that poor knowledge, partial and uncertain, and at best only practical, which is conveyed to us by the senses. Even our first principles now are beyond the most daring conjectures then; and what has been said so touchingly of Christian ideas as compared with pagan, is true in its way and degree of the progress of secular knowledge also in the seven centuries I have named.

“What sages would have died to learn,

[Is] taught by cottage dames.”

Nor is this the only point in which the revelations of science may be compared to the supernatural revelations of Christianity. Though sacred truth was delivered once for all, and scientific discoveries are progressive, yet there is a great resemblance in the respective histories of Christianity and of Science. We are accustomed to point to the rise and spread of Christianity as a miraculous fact, and rightly so, on account of the weakness of its instruments, and the appalling weight and multiplicity of the obstacles which confronted it. To clear away those obstacles was to move mountains; yet this was done by a few poor, obscure, unbefriended men, and their poor, obscure, unbefriended followers. No social movement can come up to this marvel, which is singular and archetypical, certainly; it is a divine work, and we soon cease to admire it in order to adore. But there is more in it than its own greatness to contemplate; it is so great as to be prolific of greatness. Those whom it has created, its children who have become such by a supernatural power, have imitated, in their own acts, the dispensation which made them what they were; and, though they have not carried out works simply miraculous, yet they have done exploits sufficient to bespeak their own unearthly origin, and the new powers which had come into the world. The revival of letters by the energy of Christian ecclesiastics and laymen, when everything had to be done, reminds us of the birth of Christianity itself, as far as a work of man can resemble a work of God.

Two characteristics, as I have already had occasion to say, are generally found to attend the history of Science:—first, its instruments have an innate force, and can dispense with foreign assistance in their work; and secondly, these instruments must exist and must begin to act, before subjects are found who are to profit by their action. In plainer language, the teacher is strong, not in the patronage of great men, but in the intrinsic value and attraction of what he has to communicate; and next, he must come forward and advertise himself, before he can gain hearers. This I have expressed before, in saying that a great school of learning lived in demand and supply, and that the supply must be before the demand. Now, what is this but the very history of the preaching of the Gospel? who but the Apostles and Evangelists went out to the ends of the earth without patron, or friend, or other external advantage which could insure their success? and again, who among the multitude they enlightened, would have called for their aid unless they had gone to that multitude first, and offered to it blessings which up to that moment it had not heard of? They had no commission, they had no invitation, from man; their strength lay neither in their being sent, nor in their being sent for; but in the circumstances that they had that with them, a divine message, which they knew would at once, when it was uttered, thrill through the hearts of those to whom they spoke, and make for themselves friends in any place, strangers and outcasts as they were when they first came. They appealed to the secret wants and aspirations of human nature, to its laden conscience, its weariness, its desolateness, and its sense of the true and the divine; nor did they long wait for listeners and disciples, when they announced the remedy of evils which were so real.

Something like this were the first stages of the process by which in medieval Christendom the structure of our present intellectual elevation was carried forward. From Rome as from a centre, as the Apostles from Jerusalem, went forth the missionaries of knowledge, passing to and fro all over Europe; and, as metropolitan sees were the record of the presence of Apostles, so did Paris, Pavia, and Bologna, and Padua, and Ferrara, Pisa and Naples, Vienna, Louvain, and Oxford, rise into Universities at the voice of the theologian or the philosopher. Moreover, as the Apostles went through labours untold, by sea and land, in their charity to souls; so, if robbers, shipwrecks, bad lodging, and scanty fare are trials of zeal, such trials were encountered without hesitation by the martyrs and confessors of science. And as Evangelists had grounded their teaching upon the longing for happiness natural to man, so did these securely rest their cause on the natural thirst for knowledge: and again as the preachers of Gospel peace had often to bewail the ruin which persecution or dissension had brought upon their flourishing colonies, so also did the professors of science often find or flee the ravages of sword or pestilence in those places, which they themselves perhaps in former times had made the seats of religious, honourable, and useful learning. And lastly, as kings and nobles have fortified and advanced the interests of the Christian faith without being necessary to it, so in like manner we may enumerate with honour Charlemagne, Alfred, Henry the First of England, Joan of Navarre, and many others, as patrons of the schools of learning, without being obliged to allow that those schools could not have progressed without such countenance.

These are some of the points of resemblance between the propagation of Christian truth and the revival of letters; and, to return to the two points, to which I have particularly drawn attention, the University Professor’s confidence in his own powers, and his taking the initiative in the exercise of them, I find both these distinctly recognized by Mr. Hallam in his history of Literature. As to the latter point, he says, “The schools of Charlemagne were designed to lay the basis of a learned education, for which there was at that time no sufficient desire”:—that is, the supply was prior to the demand. As to the former: “In the twelfth century,” he says, “the impetuosity with which men rushed to that source of what they deemed wisdom, the great University of Paris, did not depend upon academical privileges or elcemosynary stipends, though these were undoubtedly very effectual in keeping it up. The University created patrons, and was not created by them”:—that is, demand and supply were all in all.

A story of the age of Charlemagne will serve in illustration. We are told that two wandering Irish students were brought by British traders to the coast of France. There, observing the eagerness with which those hawkers of perishable merchandize were surrounded by the populace, they imitated them by crying out, “Who wants wisdom? here is wisdom on sale! this is the store for wisdom!” till a sensation was created, and they were sent for and taken into favour by the great Emperor.

The professors of Greece and Rome, though pursuing the same course, had an easy time of it, compared with the duties, which, at least in the earlier periods or in certain localities, fell upon the medieval missionaries of knowledge. The pagan teachers might indeed be told to quit the city, whither they had come, on their outraging its religious sentiments or arousing its political jealousy; but still they were received as superior beings by the persons in immediate contact with them, and what they lost in one place they regained in another. On the contrary, as the cloister alone gave birth to the revivers of knowledge, so the cloister alone prepared them for their work. There was nothing selfish in their aim, nothing cowardly in their mode of operation. It was generosity which sent them out upon the public stage; it was ascetic practice which prepared them for it. Afterwards, indeed, they received the secular rewards of their exertions; but even then the general character of the intellectual movement remained as before. “The Doctors,” says Fleury in his Discourses, “being sure of finding in a certain town occupation with recompense for their labours, established themselves there of their own accord; and students, in like manner, sure to find there good masters with all the commodities of life, assembled there in crowds from all parts, even from distant countries. Thus they came to Paris from England, from Germany and all the North, from Italy, from Spain,”

Bec, a poor monastery of Normandy, set up in the eleventh century by an illiterate soldier, who sought the cloister, soon attracted scholars to its dreary clime from Italy, and transmitted them to England. Lanfranc, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, was one of these, and he found the simple monks so necessitous, that he opened a school of logic to all comers, in order, says William of Malmesbury, “that he might support his needy monastery by the pay of the students.” The same author adds, that “his reputation went into the most remote parts of the Latin world, and Bec became a great and famous Academy of letters.” Here is an instance of a commencement without support, without scholars, in order to attract scholars, and in them to find support. William of Jumièges, too, bears witness to the effect, powerful, sudden, wide-spreading, and various, of Lanfranc’s advertisement of himself. The fame of Bec and Lanfranc, he says, quickly penetrated through the whole world; and “clerks, the sons of dukes, the most esteemed masters of the Latin schools, powerful laymen, high nobles, flocked to him.” What words can more strikingly attest the enthusiastic character of the movement which he began, than to say that it carried away with it all classes; rich as well as poor, laymen as well as ecclesiastics, those who were in that day in the habit of despising letters, as well as those who might wish to live by them?

It was about a century after Lanfrac that from this same monastery of Bec came forth another Abbot, and he another Lombard, to begin a second movement, in a new science, in these same northern regions, especially in England. This was the celebrated Vacarius, or Bacalareus, who from the proximity of his birthplace to Bologna, seems to have gained that devotion to the study of the Law which he ultimately kindled in Oxford. Lanfranc had lectured in logic; Vacarius lectured in law. Bologna, which is celebrated in history for its cultivation of this august science, was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, of Universities, as far as historical evidence is to decide the question. Its University was commenced a little later than the first years of the School of Bec; and affords us an observable instance, first, of the self-originating, independent character of the scientific movement,—then, of the influence and attraction it exerted on the people,—and lastly, of the incidental difficulties through which it slowly advanced in the course of many years to its completion. There Irnerius, or Warner, according to Muratori, is found at the end of the eleventh century, and opened a school of civil law. In the next century canon law was added; in the first years of the thirteenth, the school of grammar and literature; and a few years later, those of theology and medicine. Fifty years later, it had ten thousand students under its teaching, numbers of whom had compound across sea and mountain from England; so strong and encompassing was the sentiment.

And as Englishmen at that time sought Italy, so in turn, I say, did Vacarius a native of Italy, seek England. Selden completes the parallel between him and Lanfranc, by making him Archbishop of Canterbury, after which he retired again to Bec. However, to England he came, and to Oxford; and there, he effected a revolution in the studies of the place, and that on the special ground of the definite drift and direct usefulness of the science in which he was a proficient. As in the case of Lanfranc, not one class of persons, but “rich and poor,” says Wood, “gathered around him.” The professors of Arts were thrown into the shade. Their alarm was increased by the rival zeal with which the medical science was prosecuted, and the aspect of things got in course of years so threatening, that the Holy See was obliged to interfere. If knowledge is power, it also may be honour and wealth; hence the couplet, expressive of the feeling of the day,

“Dat Galenus opes, dat Justinianus honores,

Sed Genus et Species, cogitur ire pedes.”

It was indeed the Faculty of Arts which constituted the staple, as it may be called, of a University; Arts, as seems to be commonly allowed, constituted a University; and by Arts are understood the studies comprised in the Trivium and Quadrivium, that is, (as I have said before), Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music. These were inherited from the ancient world, and were the foundation of the system which was then in course of formation. But the life of Universities lay in the new sciences, not indeed superseding, but presupposing Arts, viz., those of Theology, Law, Medicine, and in subordination to them, of Metaphysics, Natural History, and the languages. I have been speaking of the law movement, as it may be called; now, about the same time that Vacarius came to Oxford, Robert Pullus or Pulleyne came thither too from Exeter, just about the time of St. Anselm, and gave the same sort of impulse to biblical learning, which Vacarius gave to law. “From his teaching,” says the Osney Chronicle, “the Church both in England and in France gained great profit.” Leland says, that he lectured daily, “and left no stone unturned to make the British youth flourish in the sacred tongues.” “Multitudes” are said to have come to hear him, and his fame spread to Rome, whither Pope Innocent the Second sent for him. Celestine the Second made him a Cardinal, and Lucius the Second his Chancellor. He was an intimate friend of St. Bernard’s, and his influence extended to Cambridge as well as to Paris.

At Cambridge the intellectual movement had already commenced, and with similar phenomena in its course. These points, indeed, are so enveloped in obscurity, and on the other hand have so intimate a bearing on the sensibilities, now as keen as ever, of rival schools, that I, who look on philosophically, a member neither of Cambridge nor of Oxford nor of Paris, “turbantibus æquora ventis,” find it necessary to state that, in what I shall say, I am determining nothing to the prejudice of the antiquity or precedence of any of those seats of learning. I take the account given us by Peter of Blois, merely as a specimen of the way in which the present fabric of knowledge was founded and reared, as a picture in miniature of the great medieval revival, whatever becomes of its historical truth. As a mere legend, it is sufficient for my purpose; for historical legends and fictions are made according to what is probable, and after the pattern of precedents.

The author, then, to whom I have referred, says, that Jeoffred, or Goisfred, had studied at Orleans; thence he came to Lincolnshire, and became Abbot of Croyland; whence he sent to his manor of Cotenham, near Cambridge, four of his French fellow-students and monks, one of them to be Professor of sacred learning, the rest teachers in Philosophy, in which they were excellently versed. At Cambridge they hired a common barn, and opened it as a School of the high Sciences. They taught daily. By the second year the number of hearers was so great, from town and country, “that not the biggest house and barn that was,” says Wood, “nor any church whatsoever, sufficed to hold them.” They accordingly divided off into several schools, and began an arrangement of classes, some of which are enumerated. “Betimes in the morning, brother Odo, a very good grammarian and satirical poet, read grammar to the boys, and those of the younger sort, according to the doctrine of Priscian;” at one o’clock “a most acute and subtle Sophist taught the elder sort of young men Aristotle’s Logic;” at three o’clock, “brother William read a lecture on Tully’s Rhetoric and Quintilian’s Flores;”—such was the beginning of the University of Cambridge. And “Master Gislebert upon every Sunday and Holyday, preached the Word of God to the people;”—such was the beginning of its University Church.

It will be observed, that in these accounts, Scripture comment is insisted on, and little or nothing is said of Theology, properly so called. Indeed, it was not till the next (the thirteenth) century, that Theology took that place, which Law assumed about a century before it. Then it was that the Friars, especially the Dominicans, were doing as much for Theology, as Irnerius, Vacarius, and the Bolognese Professors did for Law. They raised it (if I may so speak of what is divine) to the dignity of a science. “They had such a succinct and delightful method,” says Wood, speaking of them at Oxford, “in the whole course of their discipline, quite in a manner different from the sophistical way of the Academicians, that thereby they did not only draw to them the Benedictines and Carthusians, to be sometimes their constant auditors, but also the Friars of St. Augustine.”

Here we have another exemplification of the same great principles of the movement which we have noticed elsewhere; its teachers came from afar, and they depended, not on kings and great men for their support, but on the enthusiasm they created. “The reputation of the school of Paris,” says Fleury, “increased considerably at the commencement of the twelfth century under William of Champeaux and his disciples at St. Victor’s. At the same time Peter Abelard came thither and taught them with great éclat the humanities and the Aristotelic philosophy. Alberic of Rheims taught there also; and Peter Lombard, Hildebert, Robert Pullus, the Abbot Rupert, and Hugh of St. Victor; Albertus Magnus also, and the Angelic Doctor.” How few of these professors at Paris were fellow-countrymen! Albert was from Germany, St. Thomas from Naples, Peter Lombard from Novara, Robert Pullus from Exeter in England. The case had been the same three centuries before in the same great school. Charlemagne brought Peter of Pisa from Pavia for Grammar; Alcuin from England for Rhetoric and Logic; Theodore and Benedict from Rome for Music; John of Melrose, who was afterwards at the head of the schools at Pavia, and Claudius Clemens, two Scots, from Ireland. Ireland, indeed, contributed a multitude of teachers to the continental schools, and the more, because, great as was the fame of its earlier schools, it had now no University of its own. The names of its professors have not commonly been preserved, though Erigena and Scotus by their very titles show their origin: but we find that, when the Emperor Frederick the Second would set up the University of Naples, he sent all the way to Ireland for the learned Peter to be its first Rector; and an author, quoted in Bulæus, speaks of “the whole of Ireland, with its family of philosophers, despising the dangers of the sea,” and migrating to the south. Such was the famous Richard of St. Victor, whose very title marks his connexion with the great school of Paris.

There is a force in the words, “despising the dangers of the sea.” We in this degenerate age sometimes shrink from the passage between Holyhead and Kingstown, when duty calls for it; yet before steam-boats, almost before seaworthy vessels, we find those zealous scholars, both Irish and English, voluntarily exposing themselves to the winds and waves, from their desire of imparting and acquiring knowledge. Not content with one teacher, they went from place to place, according as in each there was preëminence in a particular branch of knowledge. We have in St. Athanasius’s life of St. Antony a beautiful account of the diligence with which the young hermit went about “like the bee,” as his great biographer says, in quest of superiority in various kinds of virtue. From one holy man, he says (I quote from memory), the youth gained courtesy and grace, from another gentleness, from another mortification, from another humility; and in a similar way did the knights errant of science go about, seeking indeed sometimes rivals to encounter, but more frequently patterns and instructors to follow. As then the legendary St. George or St. Denys wandered from place to place to achieve feats of heroism, as St. Antony or Sulpicius Severus went about on pilgrimage to holy hermits, as St. Gregory Nazianzen visited Greece, or St. Jerome traversed Europe, and became, the one the most accomplished theologian, the other the first Biblical scholar of his age, so did the medieval Doctors and Masters go the round of Universities in order to get the best instruction in every school.

The famous John of Salisbury (as Mr. Sharon Turner tells us) went to Paris for the lectures of Abelard just on the death of Henry the First, and with him he studied logic. Then for dialectics he went to Alberic and to the English Robert for two years. Then for three years to William de Conchia for grammar; afterwards to Richard Bishop for a renewed study of grammar and logic, going on to the Quadrivium; and to the German Harduin. Next he restudied rhetoric, which he had learned from Theodoric, and more completely from Father Elias. Meanwhile, he supported himself by teaching the children of noble persons, and became intimate with Adam, an Englishman, a stout Aristotelian, and returned to logic with William of Soissons and Gilbert. Lastly, he studied theology with Robert Pulleyne or Pullus, already mentioned, and Simon de Poissy. Thus he passed as many as twelve years. Better instances, however, than his, as introducing a wider extent of travel, are those already referred to, of St. Thomas, or Vacarius, or Lanfranc, or St. Anselm, or John of Melrose.

The ordinary course of study, however, lay between the schools of Paris and Oxford, in which was almost centered the talent of the age, and which were united by the most intimate connexion. Happy age, whatever its other inconveniences, happy so far as this, that religion and science were then a bond of union, till the ambition of monarchs and the rivalry of race dissolved it! Wood gives us a list of thirty-two Oxford professors of name, who in their respective times went to teach in Paris, among whom were Alexander Hales, and the admirable St. Edmund, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury,—St. Edmund, who, as St. Anselm and St. Thomas, shows us how sanctity is not inconsistent with preëminence in the schools. On the other hand, Bulæus recites the names of men, even greater, viewed as a body, who went from Oxford to Paris, not to teach, but to be taught; such as St. Thomas of Canterbury, St. Richard, St. Gilbert of Sempringham, Giraldus Cambrensis, Gilbert the Universal, Haimo, Richard de Barry, Nicholas Breakspeare, afterwards Pope, Nekam, Morley, and Galfredus de Vinsalfe. So intimate, or to use the word, so thick were Paris and Oxford at this time, as to give occasion to this couplet,

“Et procul et propius jam Francus et Anglicus æquè,

Norunt Parisiis quid feceris, Oxoniæque.”

And this continued till the time of Edward the Third, when came the wretched French wars and the Lollards, and then adieu to familiar intercourse down to this day.

I have not found the number of students in Paris; but from what I have said, one is led to expect two things of it, first, that it would be very great, next, that it would be very variable: and these inferences are confirmed by what is told us of the numbers at Oxford. In that University we read of Scotch, Irish, Welsh, French, Spanish, German, Bohemian, Hungarian, and Polish Students; and, when it is considered, as a modern writer tells us, that they would bring with them, or require for their uses, a number of dependents in addition, such as parchment-preparers, bookbinders, stationers, apothecaries, surgeons, and laundresses, it may be understood that the whole number of matriculated persons was sometimes even marvellous, and as fluctuating in a long period as excessive at particular dates. We are told that there were in Oxford in 1209 three thousand members of the University, in 1231 thirty thousand, in 1263 fifteen thousand, in 1350 between three and four thousand, and in 1360 six thousand. This ebbing and flowing, moreover, suggests what it is all along very much to my purpose to observe, and on which, if I have the opportunity, I shall have more to say presently; first, that the zeal for study and knowledge is sufficient indeed in itself for the being of a University; but secondly, that it is not sufficient for its well being, or what is technically called its integrity.

The era of the French wars, which put an end to this free intercourse of France and England, seems for various reasons to have been the beginning of a decline in the ecumenical greatness of Universities. They lost some advantages, they gained others; they became national bodies; they gained much in the way of good order and in comfort; they became rich and honourable establishments. Each age has its own character and its own wants: and we trust that in each a loving Providence shapes the institutions of the Church as they may best subserve the objects for which she has been sent into the world. We cannot tell exactly what the Catholic University ought to be at this era; doubtless neither the University of Scotus, nor that of Gerson, in matters of detail; but, if we keep great principles before us, and feel our way carefully, and ask guidance from above for every step we take, we may trust to be able to serve the cause of truth in our day and according to our measure, and in that way which is most expedient and most profitable, as our betters did in ages past and gone.

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