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

THE most prominent distinction between the primitive and the medieval schools, as I have already many times said, was, that the latter had a range and system in their subjects and the manner of their teaching, which were unknown to the former. The primitive schools, for instance, lectured from Scripture with the comments of the Fathers; but the medieval schools created the science of theology. The primitive schools collected and transmitted the canonical rules and traditions of the Church; the medieval schools taught the science of canon law. And so as regards secular studies, the primitive schools professed the three sciences of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, which make up the Trivium, and the four branches of the mathematics, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, which make up the Quadrivium. On the other hand, the medieval schools recognized philosophy as a science of sciences, which included, located, connected, and used all kinds and modes of knowledge; they enlarged the sphere and application of logic; and they added civil law, natural history, and medicine to the curriculum. It followed, moreover, from this, that while, on the one hand, they were led to divide their work among a number of Professors, they opened their doors on the other to laity as well as clergy, and to foreigners as well as natives.

Of schools founded on this magnificent idea and answering to a profession so comprehensive and so engrossing, there could be but a few specimens; for instance, Paris, Oxford, and Bologna. These, too, owed their characteristic splendour in no small measure to the zeal and learning of the Friars, especially the Dominicans; accordingly, their great era was the thirteenth century. But various causes came into operation to modify the University type, as I have described it, or at least its applications and manifestations, when that century had passed away. The first movements of new agents, both in the physical and social world, are commonly more energetic and more successful than those which follow; and this remark includes both Universities themselves, and the religious bodies which were their prominent supporters. New orders of religion commonly achieve their greatest works in their first fervour. The very success too of the experiment would tend to impair the University type by multiplying copies of it; for an imperial power (and a University was such in the intellectual world) must be solitary to be imperial. As, then, the utility of the new schools was recognized, they became more numerous and their respective territories less extensive. Moreover, it was natural, that, as country after country woke up into existence and assumed an individuality, each in turn should desire a University of its own, that is, an institution indigenous and national. Peace between states could not always be maintained; the elements were beyond the traveller’s control; and a safe-conduct did not secure the pilgrim scholar from bandits and pirates. The mutual divergence and distinctive formation of languages and of national character, national histories, national pride, national antipathies, would all carry forward the course of events in the same direction; and the Collegiate system, of which I shall presently speak, coöperated in making a University a local institution, and in embodying it among the establishments of the nation. Hence it came to pass, that Oxford, for instance, in course of time, was not exactly the Oxford of the thirteenth century. Not that the great and primary idea of a University was not sufficiently preserved; it was still a light set upon a hill, or a sort of ecumenical doctor on all subjects of knowledge, human and divine; but it was directed and coloured by the political and social influences to which it was accidentally exposed. This change began about the commencement of the fourteenth century; however, I am not going to dwell upon it here; for the foregoing reference to it is only introductory to a short notice, which I propose now to give, of the ancient University of Dublin or of Ireland, set up at this very era,—a subject to which the mind naturally reverts just at this moment, when we are now on the point of laying down the rudiments of its revival or reconstruction upon the old foundations, on a grander scale, and, as we trust and believe, with a happier prospect for the future.

If by “University” is meant a large national School, conducted on the basis of the old Roman education, it was impossible that such should not have existed in a people so literary as the Irish, from the very time that St. Patrick brought among them Christianity and civilization. Accordingly, we hear of great seats of learning of this description in various parts of the country. The school of Armagh is said at one time to have numbered as many as seven thousand students; and tradition assigns a University town to the locality where the Seven Churches still preserve the memory of St. Kevin. Foreigners, at least Anglo-Saxons, frequented such schools, and, so far, they certainly had a University character; but that they offered to their pupils more than the glosses on the sacred text and the collections of canons, and the Trivium and the Quadrivium, which were the teaching of the schools of the Continent, it is difficult to suppose; or that the national genius for philosophizing, which afterwards anticipated or originated the scholastic period, should at this era have come into exercise. When that period came, the Irish, so far having its characteristic studies already domiciled among them, were forced to go abroad for their prosecution. They went to Paris or to Oxford for the living traditions, which are the ordinary means by which religion and morals, science and art, are diffused over communities, and propagated from land to land. In Oxford, indeed, there was from the earliest time even a street called “Irishman’s Street,” and the Irish were included there under the “Nation” of the Southern English; but they gained what they sought in that seat of learning, at the expense of discomforts which were the serious drawback of the first age of Universities. Lasting feuds and incessant broils marked the presence of Irish, Welsh, Scotch, English, and French in one place, at a time when the Collegiate System was not formed. To this great evil was added the very circumstance that home was far away, and the danger of the passage across the channel; which would diminish the number, while it illustrated the literary zeal, of the foreign students. And an additional source of discontent was found in the feeling of incongruity, that Ireland, with her literary antecedents, should be without a University of her own; and, moreover, as time went on, in the feeling which existed at Rome, in favour of the multiplication of such centres of science and learning.

Another perfectly distinct cause was in operation, to which I was just now referring. The Dominicans, and other Orders of the age, had had a preëminent place in the history of the Universities of Paris and Oxford, and had done more than any other teachers to give the knowledge taught in them their distinctive form. When then these Orders came into Ireland, it was only to be expected that they should set about the same work there, which had marked their presence in England and France. Accordingly, at the end of the thirteenth century, the question of a University in Ireland had been mooted, and its establishment was commenced in the first years of the fourteenth.

This was the date of the foundation of the Universities of Avignon and Perugia, which was followed by that of Cahors, Grenoble, Pisa, and Prague. It was the date at which Oxford in consequence lost its especial preëminence in science; and it was the date, I say, at which the University of Dublin was projected and begun. In 1311 or 1312, John Lech or Leach, Archbishop of Dublin, obtained of Clement the Fifth a brief for the undertaking; in which, as is usual in such documents, the Pope gives the reasons which have induced him to decide upon it. He begins by setting forth the manifold, or rather complex, benefits of which a University is the instrument; as father of the faithful, he recognizes it as his office to nurture learned sons, who, by the illumination of their knowledge, may investigate the divine law, protect justice and truth, illustrate the faith, promote good government, teach the ignorant, confirm the weak, and restore the fallen. This office he is only fulfilling, in receiving favourably the supplication of his venerable brother, John de Lecke, who has brought before him the necessities of his country, in which, as well as in Scotland, Man, and Norway, the countries nearest to Ireland, a “Universitas Scholarum,” or “Generale Studium,” is not to be found;—the consequence being, that though there are in Ireland some doctors and bachelors in theology, and other graduates in grammar, these are, after all, few in comparison of the number which the country might fairly produce. The Pope proceeds to express his desire, that from the land itself should grow up men skilled and fruitful in the sciences, who would make it to be a well-watered garden, to the exaltation of the Catholic faith, the honour of Mother Church, and the advantage of the faithful population. And with this view he erects in Dublin a Studium Generale in every science and faculty, to continue for “perpetual times.”

And, I suppose no greater benefit could have been projected for Ireland at that date, than such a bond of union and means of national strength, as an Irish University. But the parties, who had originated the undertaking, had also to carry it out: and at the moment of which I am speaking, by the fault neither of Prelate nor laity, nor by division, nor by intemperance or jealousy, nor by wrong-headedness within the fold, nor by malignant interference from without, but by the will of heaven and the course of nature, the work was suspended;—for John de Lecke fell ill and died the next year, and his successor, Alexander de Bicknor, was not in circumstances to take up his plans at the moment, where de Lecke had left them.

Seven years passed; and then Bicknor turned his mind to their prosecution. Acting under the authority of the brief of Clement, and with the sanction and confirmation of the reigning Pontiff, John the Twenty-second, he published an instrument, in which he lays down on his own authority the provisions and dispositions which he had determined for the nascent University. He addresses himself to “the Masters and Scholars of our University,” and that “with the consent and assent of our chapters of Holy Trinity and St. Patrick.” I think I am correct in saying, though I write without book, that he makes no mention of a Rector. If not, the Chancellor probably, whom he does mention, took his place, or was his synonyme, as in some other Universities. This Chancellor the Regent Masters were to have the privilege of choosing, with a proviso that he was a “Doctor in sacrâ paginâ,” or in “jure canonico,” with a preference of members of the two chapters. He was to take the oath of fidelity to the Archbishop. The Regent Masters elected the Proctors also, who were two in number, and who supplied the place of the Chancellor in his absence. The Chancellor was invested with jurisdiction over the members of the University, and had a court, to which causes belonged in which they were concerned. There was, moreover, a University chest, supplied by means of the fines which were the result of his decisions. Degrees were to be conferred upon certificate of the Masters of the Faculty, in which the candidate was proceeding. Statutes were to be passed by the Chancellor, in council of Masters Regent and Non-regent, subject to the confirmation of the Archbishop. The Schools of the Friars Preachers (or Dominicans) and of the Minorites (or Franciscans) were recognized in their connection with the University, the Archbishop reserving to himself the right of appointing a Lecturer in Holy Scripture.

Such was the encouraging and hopeful start of the University; the Dean of St. Patrick was advanced to the Doctorate in Canon Law, and was created its first Chancellor; its first Doctors in Theology were two Dominicans and one Franciscan. The Canons of the Cathedral seem to have been its acting members, and filled the offices of a place of education without prejudicing their capitular duties. However, it soon appeared that there was somewhere a hitch, and the work did not make progress. It has been supposed with reason, that under the unhappy circumstances of the time, the University could not make head against the necessary difficulties of a commencement. Another and more definite cause which is assigned for the failure, is the want of funds. The Irish people were poor, and unable to meet the expenses involved in the establishment of a great seat of learning, at a time when other similar institutions already existed. The time had passed when Universities grew up out of the enthusiasm of teachers and the curiosity and eagerness of students; or, if these causes still were in operation, they had been directed and flowed in upon seats of learning already existing in other countries. It was the age of national schools, of colleges and endowments; and, though the civil power appeared willing to take its part in endowments in furtherance of the new undertaking, it did not go much further than to enrich it now and then with a stray lectureship, and wealthy prelates or nobles were not forthcoming in that age, capable of conceiving and executing works in the spirit of Ximenes two centuries afterwards in Spain.

Yet down to the very time of Ximenes, and beyond it, continual and praiseworthy efforts were made, on the part both of the Church and of the State, to accomplish a work which was important in proportion to its difficulty. In 1358 the clergy and scholars of Ireland represented to Edward the Third the necessity under which they lay of cultivating theology, canon law, and the other clerical sciences, and the serious impediments in the way of these studies which lay in the expense of travel and the dangers of the sea to those who had no University of their own. In answer to this request, the king seems to have founded a lectureship in theology; and he indirectly encouraged the University schools by issuing his letters-patent, giving special protection and safe-conduct to English as well as Irish, of whatever degree, with their servants and attendants, their goods and habiliments, in going, residing, and returning. A few years later, in 1364, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, founded a preachership and lectureship in the Cathedral, to be held by an Augustinian.

A further attempt in behalf of a University was made a century later. In 1465, the Irish Parliament, under the presidency of Thomas Geraldine, Earl of Desmond, Vicegerent of George, Duke of Clarence, Lieutenant of the English King, had erected a University at Drogheda, and endowed it with the privileges of the University of Oxford. This attempt, however, in like manner was rendered abortive by the want of funds; but it seems to have suggested a new effort in favour of the elder institution at Dublin, which at this time could scarcely be said to exist. Ten years after the Parliament in question, the Dominican and other friars preferred a supplication to Pope Sixtus the Fourth, in which they represent that in Ireland there is no University to which Masters, Doctors of Law, and Scholars may resort; that it is necessary to go to England at a great expense and peril; and consequently they ask for leave to erect a University in the metropolitan city. The Pope granted their request, and, though nothing followed, the attempt is so far satisfactory, as evidencing the perseverance of the Irish clergy in aiming at what they felt to be a benefit of supreme importance to their country.

Nor was this the last of such attempts, nor were the secular behind the regular clergy in zeal for a University. As late as the reign of Henry the Seventh, in the year 1496, Walter Fitzsimon, Archbishop of Dublin, in provincial Synod, settled an annual contribution to be levied for seven years in order to provide salaries for the Lecturers. And, though we have no record, I believe, of the effect of this measure, yet, when the chapter was reestablished in the reign of Philip and Mary, the allusion made in the legal instrument to the loss which the youthful members of society had sustained in its suppression, may be taken to show, that certain scholastic benefits had resulted from its stalls though the education which they provided was not of that character which the name of a University demanded.

Times are changed since these attempts were made; and, while the causes no longer exist which operated in their failure, the object towards which they were directed has attained a moment, both in itself and in its various bearings, which could never have been predicted in the fourteenth or the sixteenth century. Ireland is no longer the conquered possession of a foreign king; it is, as in the primitive times, the centre of a great Catholic movement and of a world-wide missionary enterprise. Nor does the Holy see simply lend an ear to the project of others: it originates the undertaking.

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