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

NO two institutions are more distinct from each other in character, than Universities and Seminaries; and their very difference might seem a pledge that they would not come into collision with each other. Seminaries are for the education of the clergy; Universities for the education of laymen. They are for separate purposes, and they act in separate spheres; yet, such is human infirmity, perhaps they ever will be rivals in their actual working. So at least it has been in time past. Universities grew out of the Episcopal Schools; and then, as time went on, they returned evil for good, and gradually broke the strength, and drained away the life of the institution which had given them birth; an institution too, which was of far more importance to the Church than themselves. Universities are ornaments indeed and bulwarks to Religion; but Seminaries are essential to its purity and efficiency. It is plain then, if the action and interests of the two institutions have conflicted, which side the Church would take in the quarrel. She would side for the injured party, against the aggressor; for the party more important to her, against the party less so. Universities then for a long season have been sustaining the punishment of past ambition; and it seems hardly right to close this survey of them without saying a few words about them under this aspect.

As Seminaries are so necessary to the Church, they are one of her earliest appointments. Scarcely had the New Dispensation opened, when, following the example of the Schools of the Temple and of the Prophets under the Old, St. John is recorded, over and above the public assemblies of the faithful, to have had about him a number of students whom he familiarly instructed; and, as time went, and power was given to the Church, this School for ecclesiastical learning was placed under the roof of the Bishop. In Rome especially, where we look for the pattern to which other churches are to be conformed, the clergy, not of the city only, but of the provinces, were brought under the immediate eye of the Pope. The Lateran Church, his first Cathedral, had a Seminary attached to it, which remained there till the pontificate of Leo the Tenth, when it was transferred into the heart of the city. The students entered within its walls from the earliest childhood; but they were not raised from minor orders till the age of twenty, nor did they reach the priesthood till after the trial of many years. Strict as a monastic noviciate, it nevertheless included polite literature in its course; and a library was attached to it for the use of the seminarists. Here was educated about the year 310, St. Eusebius, afterwards in Arian times the celebrated Bishop of Vercellæ; and in the dark age which followed, it was the home from childhood of some of the greatest Popes, St. Gregory the Second, St. Paul the First, St. Leo the Third, St. Paschal, and St. Nicholas the First. This venerable Seminary, called anciently the School of the Pontifical Palace, has never failed. Even when the barbarians were wasting the face of Italy, and destroying its accumulations of literature, the great Council of Rome, under Pope Agatho, as I mentioned above, could testify, not indeed to the theological science of the school in that miserable age, but to its faithful preservation of the unbroken teaching of revealed truth and of the traditions of the Fathers. In the thirteenth century, we find it in a flourishing condition, and St. Thomas and Albertus Magnus lecturing in its halls.

Such a prerogative of perpetuity was not enjoyed elsewhere. Europe lay submerged under the waters of a deluge; and, when they receded, schools had to be refounded as well as churches. One of the principal results of Charlemagne’s visit to Rome, was the reform or revival of education, both secular and ecclesiastical; and on his return to the north he addressed his well-known letter on the subject to the chapters and monastic bodies through his Empire. Henceforth the Pope made Seminaries obligatory in every Diocese: as to the laity, they attended the public Schools spoken of in a former Chapter.

Seminaries then were long in possession before Universities were imagined; and Universities rose out of them. And, when Universities were established, in order to preserve the equilibrium between clerical and lay education, it was decreed, by the authority of the Canons, that secular learning should be studied in the Seminaries, and that each Cathedral should maintain masters for its teaching. It was foreseen that, unless this was done, Universities would supply a higher and a wider education than the Episcopal Schools; and that the clergy would either become inferior to the monks and the laity, or would be drawn within the precincts and influence of Universities.

The latter of these inconveniences actually took place. The lectures in the Universities, after all, were necessarily superior to those which a Seminary could furnish. Accordingly, Colleges for ecclesiastical students were founded in their neighbourhood, and the Cathedral Schools fell in reputation, and were gradually deserted. The youths, who would have found their natural home there, sometimes entered the Colleges aforesaid, sometimes attended the schools of the Regulars, sometimes lived in lodgings as other students. It is sufficient to refer to the Lives of the Medieval Saints for instances of ordination taking place from or at the Universities without Seminary training; take, for example, St. Raymund, St. John of Matha, St. Thomas of Canterbury, St. Edmund, St. John Nepomucene, St. Caietan, St. Carlo, St. Ignatius and his companions, or St. Francis of Sales,—men, who lived in very various ages and countries, and some of whom had to repel the shameless assaults, to which their defenceless condition, in the midst of great cities, exposed them. And thus it was, that by the date of the Council of Trent, Seminaries had all but ceased to exist; and the candidates for the Priesthood, who had any learning and any religious training, either gained it for themselves, as they could, amid the mixed concourse of a University, or as members of Colleges, which had themselves suffered materially in their discipline from University contact.

There would be danger to their faith and religious temper, as well as to their morals. In Universities, subjects of every sort were disputed publicly; and boys, who ought to have been schooled at a Seminary in distrust of the intellect and modesty of speculation, were suffered to imbibe a critical, carping, curious spirit, most unbecoming in an ecclesiastic, on the interpretation of difficulties of Scripture, or on the deepest questions of theology. And the state of things became still more grave, when Protestantism arose, and its adherents found means of introducing themselves into the Professorial chairs.

It must be recollected, too, that none but the more able, or more wealthy, or more pushing, could succeed in paying their way at a University. But the majority of ecclesiastics would be poor, and without any great energy or enterprise. These, in the decay of Seminaries, were thrown for education upon the parish schools, which were obviously unequal to the task.

Such was the state of things, to which the Council of Trent put an end. Episcopal Seminaries were restored; ecclesiastical Colleges in Universities suppressed; the profounder studies were to be taught under the Bishop’s eye: but, to make the observance of this rule easier, it was provided that poorer Dioceses might unite to establish a Provincial Seminary, where the students of each would be all educated together. Such, I suppose, in its ecclesiastical position is the College of Maynooth; and it is able in consequence to present a staff of Professors, and it exhibits an amount and quality of learning and talent, which invest it almost with a University character.

A further step in the same direction has been taken by the present Pope. Without interfering with the constitution of the Seminaries of his States, he has founded at Rome, at considerable expense, the Seminario Pio, which is to be filled with young ecclesiastics, taken from all dioceses, selected from the whole number on the principle of merit. Their course lasts for nine years, and embraces philosophy, scholastic theology, Holy Scripture, the Fathers, canon law, rites, and ecclesiastical history. It has Professorial Chairs, and the power of granting degrees in Theology and Canon Law: it is in fact an ecclesiastical University.

It cannot be denied, that, while Seminaries have been fostered and advanced during these last centuries, Universities have been out of favour. Two only were founded, as it would appear, in the sixteenth century, and these were expressly intended to counteract the spread of Protestantism. The last great Medieval University was the famous foundation, or foundations, at Alcala, due to the munificence of Cardinal Ximenes, in the year 1500. Since that date, it has been usual rather to bestow on Collegiate institutions the privileges of Universities, or in other words to erect a University in a College, than to adhere to the medieval type. Such appears to be the nature of the University, which, with the recognition of the British Government, has lately been founded at Quebec To the same distinction another College seems tending, unless civil obstacles hinder it, which to us is of especial interest, for the sake of the prelate who founded it, from its progress hitherto, and because its Superior is an Irishman: I mean L’Ecole des Hautes Etudes at Paris. But, above all, it will have a definite place, if it proceeds, as it promises to do, in the history of Universities, and for that reason deserves some distinct mention here.

It was commenced by the immediate predecessor of the present Archbishop of Paris, a prelate of glorious memory; whose blood, offered in behalf of his flock, seems already to have borne those fruits, which are the usual result of suffering in the cause of religion, and to have called down from Heaven upon his flock the blessings which he so ardently desired for them. As one of his scholars in the seat of learning which he has founded, expresses it,

Audiit, et, miseratus oves per prælia promptus,

Perque neces varias fertur, pia victima, pastor.

Heu scelus infandum! ruptæ dum fœdera pacis

Nectere, et insanos tentas cohibere furores,

Occidis, ac moriens extremâ voce “Beatos,

Si nostro,” exclamas, “cessaret sanguine sanguis!”

Nor has the Archbishop’s been the only blood by which his Institution has been sanctified, nor is that Institution the only school of devotion and science, which has occupied the spot on which it is placed. That spot was long ago, for centuries, the home of theologians, and it has become in the generation before us the scene and monument of Martyrs. It is no other than the famous Carmes, where, on the terrible outburst of the Revolution, in 1792, so many Bishops and Priests of France were massacred.

This of course is not the occasion for enumerating the noble foundations which of old time were brought under the shadow of the great University of Paris, the first school of the Church. I have touched upon the subject in a former Chapter. Nations, provinces, monastic bodies, had their several houses there, and royal personages and wealthy ecclesiastics rejoiced to leave endowments there for the benefit of religion and learning. The southern and more healthy bank of the river was allotted to it, and its manifold establishments gathered round the hill of St. Genevieve. The Carmelites were originally at an inconvenient distance from the Saint, till Philip the Fair, King of France, gave them ground at the foot of her hill, sufficient for a Church and a Monastery. This was about the year 1300; and for the last two centuries before the dreadful events, to which I have referred, it is described, in particular, as having been one of the most peaceable asylums of science and faith. When the Revolution came, and the clergy, hindered, by their duty to the Church, from taking the oaths which were presented for their acceptance, were subjected to an imprisonment which was to end in death, the Carmelite Convent was one of the buildings selected for their confinement. Here, or rather in the small church attached to the Convent, in the month of August, 1792, were crowded, first 120, and at length as many as 175 or 200, according to various accounts, of all ranks and ages of the clergy.

The first prisoners seem to have been the secular clergy of the city; to these were added a number of superannuated priests, who lived on pensions, and then a number of youthful seminarists. Besides these, were three Bishops, various Professors and Preachers, and the heads of certain religious congregations and collegiate bodies. The second of September was the day of their memorable conflict with the powers of evil, then for a brief season in the ascendant. On that day were imprisoned together in the house and garden of the Carmes (besides the Seculars), Benedictines, Capuchins, Cordeliers, Sulpicians, disbanded Jesuits, members of the Sorbonne, and of the College of Navarre. The revolutionary tribunal held its sitting in one of the rooms of the Convent, and pronounced them guilty of disloyalty to France; and then the revolutionary soldiers impatiently burst in upon the prisoners to carry its sentence into execution. The massacre lasted for three hours; eighty priests were slaughtered in the garden; the walls of the orangery at its end, now a chapel, are still stained, or rather daubed over, with their blood. On about a hundred others the outward door of the Convent was opened for their passage into the street; they were called forward one by one; the assassins stood in double file, and, as their victims ran the gauntlet between them, above sixty perished under their blows, thirty-six or thirty-eight escaping into the city. These noble soldiers of the Church waited for their turn, and went to death and died, with their office books in their hands, and its psalms and prayers upon their tongues.

To have lived in Paris then, and to have heard the report, and seen the tokens, of what was going on, was to have had some share in her agony, who of old time looked upon One uplifted on the Cross; yet, bitter as the sorrow must have been, surely it was lighter after all, than that which has oppressed the Catholic heart at other miserable seasons. It was surely lighter than that which overspread Christendom at the time when religion was overthrown in England, while, for a long course of years, for the greater part of a century, some fresh deed of sacrilege was perpetrated day by day, and a false-hearted clergy and a cowardly laity allowed the monarch and his nobles in their deeds of violence and avarice. For the death of traitors makes no sign, and whispers scarce a hope of a revival; but a martyrdom is a victory, and a Church which falls from an external blow, rises again by its inward vigour. This is fulfilled before our eyes in the instance of France, and of that memorable spot of which I have been speaking. Good reason why the late Archbishop should have placed his new institution in that sanctuary of martyrs, himself destined so soon afterwards to be gathered to their company.

Institutions, which are to thrive and last, generally have humble beginnings, sometimes a scope narrower than that which they eventually profess; as there has been enough to suggest, even in the sketches which have been set before the reader in these pages. So has it been, so is it still perhaps, in the case of the school now under consideration. Its first object, when it opened in 1845, was one indeed of high importance in itself, being no less than that of providing Professors for the petits seminaires of France. However, it is also described as “a noviciate of ecclesiastics intended for teachers of the young clergy,” which is something of an advance in dignity and moment upon the object as originally conceived. When the title was given, by which the school is now designated, does not appear; but an “Ecole des Hautes Etudes,” also promises, or presages, more than the first profession of its founder. It speaks of high studies, and studies for their own sake, which hardly is equivalent to a school for schoolmasters. Perhaps it was discovered, as soon as attention was directed to the subject, that, in order to teach well, more must be learned by the teacher than he has formally to impart to the pupil; that he must be above his work, and know, and know accurately and philosophically, what he does not actually profess. Accordingly, we find the students are instructed, not only in the languages, but in the literatures, of Greece, Rome, and France; in general history; and in philosophy, and in the bearings of religion upon it,—in which probably are included the study of the Evidences of Christianity, of the objections made to it and their refutation. Nor is the direct cultivation of their minds forgotten; the perfection of our intellectual nature seems to be judgment; and what judgment is in the conduct of life, such is taste in our social intercourse, in literature, and the fine arts. Now we are told that it is provided, with a largeness of view which does honour to the projectors of the Institution, that its students, though ecclesiastical, should be made acquainted with the ideas and sentiments, the tone of mind, and character of thought, and method of expression, which distinguish the great writers both of ancient and modern times; in order that, while they exercise themselves in composition, they may have a really good standard to work by, and may learn even unconsciously to imitate what has become familiar to them by frequent perusal.

Nor is this the limit of their studies; the present Archbishop has added mathematics, physics, and geology. Little is evidently now wanting to complete a University course; and accordingly we find they have been led for some time to present themselves for the formal examinations which are the condition of an academical degree. Two years ago they numbered as many as thirty-two licentiates in arts; and the doctorate, which is preceded by the study of the Fathers and ecclesiastical history, had then been attained by three. Meanwhile the Synod of Paris has made the Institution the metropolitan school of the province. Moreover, an association has been formed for founding burses in favour of poorer students, to which the ladies of the higher classes and the curés of Paris are liberally contributing.

The Institution would have no pretension to the historical name of “University,” while it was confined to ecclesiastics; and the present Archbishop, pursuing the process of development, which had been so rapid in its movements before him, has opened it to the laity. The two descriptions of students are kept distinct, except at lecture, examinations, and literary meetings. The lay youths are received, as it would appear, after the age of eighteen, and are educated for the Professions, while they gain of course the benefit of being imbued with sound principles of religion. Literature and mathematics form their principal studies; they are practised, moreover, as well as the ecclesiastics, in exercises of a logical character, in elocution and composition. Many of these youths pass on to the Ecole Polytechnique, or other government schools; or even belong to them, while they attend lectures at the Carmes.

The cause of truth, never dominant in this world, has its ebbs and flows. It is pleasant to live in a day, when the tide is coming in. Such is our own day; and, without forgetting that there are many rocks on the shore to throw us back and break our advance for the moment, and to task our patience before we cover them,—that physical force is now on the world’s side, and that the world will be provoked to more active enmity against the Church in proportion to her success,—still we may surely encourage ourselves by a thousand tokens all around us now, that this is our hour, whatever be its duration, the hour for great hopes, great schemes, great efforts, great beginnings. We may live indeed to see but little built, but we shall see much founded. A new era seems to be at hand, and a bolder policy is showing itself. In particular, the Church feels herself strong enough in the provisions and safeguards which a painful experience has suggested against prospective dangers, to recommence the age of Universities. Louvain revived twenty years ago; a new University of Paris seems to be in prospect, or at least in hope; the report is current that a University is soon to be erected in Austria; and the University of Ireland is proving its possibility by entering on its work, and presaging its future success by its triumph over the difficulties of its commencement.

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