Novak (novak) wrote,
Novak
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Retraction--The Origin of "Universities"

Had a better night's sleep, but still interrupted several times to go to the bathroom. Feel like I'm pregnant.

When I was teaching high school Church History, one of the drawbacks, as I've told people, was that to jam 2000 years of material into a semester, you had to condense so much that you sometimes felt like you were lying, you so had to simplify things. That was bad enough. Then sometimes, you found you made an actual mistake. Last night, reading a bit of my current side reading, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, by the late Hastings Rashdall (Second Edition, 1936), I discovered a mistake. In talking with the kids about the foundation of the universities (another thing you don't pick up on as being entirely medieval when Hollywood insists on portraying the Middle Ages as being entirely composed of Ignorant People being Ignorant), I mentioned that the name "university" came from the "universal" nature of the schools in being a center for all the subjects, both the foundational Liberal Arts curriculum that lead to the Bachelor's degree of the time and also of the three professions of the time: Theology (the best of which was in Paris), Law (Bologna), and Medicine (Salerno). So then last night I read:

The notion that a university means a universitas facultatum--a school in which all the faculties or branches of knowledge are represented--has, indeed, long since disappeared from the pages of professed historians; but it is still persistently foisted upon the public by writers with whom history is subordinate to what may be called intellectual edification.

Not only was I wrong, but I was completely slammed for being wrong by a guy writing in 1895. That hurts. Sure, I must have read the wrong thing in a scholar of the sort he slammed, but as an historian myself, I ought to have gotten it right. "University," as it turns out, was a word whose original meaning was that of "group," basically, so one could refer to these early "general schools" as a "university of students," or as a "university of scholars."

It's a small point, but history can sometimes turn on small points. To the approximately 1000 students to whom I told the wrong thing, I apologize.

I also finished a small history of Marquette's Department of Theology by Patrick Carey, a professor of American religious history here, which was kind of fascinating. Although it didn't at all touch on personalities and internal conflict--of which, I'm sure, our Department's history has as much as any others'--it was still nevertheless interesting to learn a variety of things I'd not known before. Prior to Marquette establishing its Ph.D. program in the 60s, the only doctorate available in Catholic theology was through the Catholic University of America, and that was only to priests, and also under the politics of papal control, so up until that time was frozen in a pretty rigid neo-scholastic model. Perhaps more philosophical theology than theology proper. "Religion" in other Catholic universities was in a pretty pitiful state, basically being "catechetics" or just simple instruction in doctrine, not in critical investigation and interaction with the Tradition (capital "T" "Tradition" being Catholic-talk for being involved with the entire scope and history of Catholic thought). Again, everything had pretty much frozen in an anti-Protestant stance, with only one form of thought--Neo-Scholasticism--being the authorized style of Catholic inquiry, and therefore having a tendency to grow stale intellectually.

A number of Jesuits had been meeting to discuss forming a critical, historically-driven, department of Theology in the United States, but Marquette was the only school to do it, and that was hard going for a while, in terms of having a faculty qualified and capable of offering doctoral-level work at the level one associated with European universities. Marquette also wanted to make Theology accessible not only to priests, but also to religious (nuns and monks) and to the laity. Marquette's successful attempt--which after some thirty years of talk of the need for this in American Catholicism--finally took off at just the same time as the Second Vatican Council, came as the Council was increasing the interest and popularity of theology, too. Other Catholic institutions, such as my own Notre Dame or Boston College were also then able to create first-rate contemporary theological programs of intellectual depth and availability to the whole Church (meaning especially lay-people like me).
Tags: historical, historiography, marquette, medieval studies, personal, retraction, saint joseph's high school, theological notebook
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