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Medieval Intellectual and Cultural Life - Documents

Document # 19

Peter Abelard, 'History of His Calamities', Chapter 2.

I came at length to Paris, where above all in those days the art of dialectics was most flourishing, and there did I meet William of Champeaux, my teacher, a man most distinguished in his science both by his renown and by his true merit. With him I remained for some time, at first indeed well liked of him; but later I brought him great grief, because I undertook to refute certain of his opinions, not infrequently attacking him in disputation, and now and then in these debates I was adjudged victor. Now this, to those among my fellow students who were ranked foremost, seemed all the more insufferable because of my youth and the brief duration of my studies.

Out of this sprang the beginning of my misfortunes, which have followed me even to the present day; the more widely my fame was spread abroad, the more bitter was the envy that was kindled against me. It was given out that I, presuming on my gifts far beyond the warranty of my youth, was aspiring despite my tender years to the leadership of a school; nay, more, that I was making ready the very place in which I would undertake this task, the place being none other than the castle of Melun, at that time a royal seat. My teacher himself had some foreknowledge of this, and tried to remove my school as far as possible from his own. Working in secret, he sought in every way he could before I left his following to bring to nought the school I had planned and the place I had chosen for It. Since, however, in that very place he had many rivals, and some of them men of influence among the great ones of the land, relying on their aid I won to the fulfillment of my wish; the support of many was secured for me by reason of his own unconcealed envy. From this small inception of my school, my fame in the art of dialectics began to spread abroad, so that little by little the renown, not alone of those who had been my fellow students, but of our very teacher himself, grew dim and was like to die out altogether. Thus it came about that, still more confident in myself, I moved my school as soon as I well might to the castle of Corbeil, which is hard by the city of Paris, for there I knew there would be given more frequent chance for my assaults in our battle of disputation.

No long time thereafter I was smitten with a grievous illness, brought upon me by my immoderate zeal for study. This illness forced me to turn homeward to my native province, and thus for some years I was as if cut off from France. And yet, for that very reason, I was sought out all the more eagerly by those whose hearts were troubled by the lore of dialectics. But after a few years had passed, and I was whole again from my sickness, I learned that my teacher, that same William Archdeacon of Paris, had changed his former garb and joined an order of the regular clergy. This he had done, or so men said, in order that he might be deemed more deeply religious, and so might be elevated to a loftier rank in the prelacy, a thing which, in truth, very soon came to pass, for he was made bishop of Chalons. Nevertheless, the garb he had donned by reason of his conversion did nought to keep him away either from the city of Paris or from his wonted study of philosophy; and in the very monastery wherein he had shut himself up for the sake of religion he straightway set to teaching again after the same fashion as before.

To him did I return for I was eager to learn more of rhetoric from his lips; and in the course of our many arguments on various matters, I compelled him by most potent reasoning first to alter his former opinion on the subject of the universals, and finally to abandon it altogether. Now, the basis of this old concept of his regarding the reality of universal ideas was that the same quality formed the essence alike of the abstract whole and of the individuals which were its parts: in other words, that there could be no essential differences among these individuals, all being alike save for such variety as might grow out of the many accidents of existence. Thereafter, however, he corrected this opinion, no longer maintaining that the same quality was the essence of all things, but that, rather, it manifested itself in them through diverse ways. This problem of universals is ever the most vexed one among logicians, to such a degree, indeed, that even Porphyry, writing in his "Isagoge" regarding universals, dared not attempt a final pronouncement thereon, saying rather: "This is the deepest of all problems of its kind." Wherefore it followed that when William had first revised and then finally abandoned altogether his views on this one subject, his lecturing sank into such a state of negligent reasoning that it could scarce be called lecturing on the science of dialectics at all; it was as if all his science had been bound up in this one question of the nature of universals.

Thus it came about that my teaching won such strength and authority that even those who before had clung most vehemently to my former master, and most bitterly attacked my doctrines, now flocked to my school. The very man who had succeeded to my master's chair in the Paris school offered me his post, in order that he might put himself under my tutelage along with all the rest, and this in the very place where of old his master and mine had reigned. And when, in so short a time, my master saw me directing the study of dialectics there, it is not easy to find words to tell with what envy he was consumed or with what pain he was tormented. He could not long, in truth, bear the anguish of what he felt to be his wrongs, and shrewdly he attacked me that he might drive me forth. And because there was nought in my conduct whereby he could come at me openly, he tried to steal away the school by launching the vilest calumnies against him who had yielded his post to me, and by putting in his place a certain rival of mine. So then I returned to Melun, and set up my school there as before; and the more openly his envy pursued me, the greater was the authority it conferred upon me. Even so held the poet: "Jealousy aims at the peaks; the winds storm the loftiest summits." (Ovid:"Remedy for Love," I,369.)

Not long thereafter, when William became aware of the fact that almost all his students were holding grave doubts as to his religion, and were whispering earnestly among themselves about his conversion, deeming that he had by no means abandoned this world, he withdrew himself and his brotherhood, together with his students, to a certain estate far distant from the city. Forthwith I returned from Melun to Paris, hoping for peace from him in the future. But since, as I have said, he had caused my place to be occupied by a rival of mine, I pitched the camp, as it were, of my school outside the city on Mont Ste. Genevieve. Thus I was as one laying siege to him who had taken possession of my post. No sooner had my master heard of this than he brazenly returned post haste to the city, bringing back with him such students as he could, and reinstating his brotherhood in their former monastery, much as if he would free his soldiery, whom he had deserted, from my blockade. In truth, though, if it was his purpose to bring them succor, he did nought but hurt them. Before that time my rival had indeed had a certain number of students, of one sort and another, chiefly by reason of his lectures on Priscian, in which he was considered of great authority. After our master had returned, however, he lost nearly all of these followers, and thus was compelled to give up the direction of the school. Not long thereafter, apparently despairing further of worldly fame, he was converted to the monastic life.


Document # 20

Robert de Courçon, Statutes for the University of Paris, 1215

R., servant of the cross of Christ, by the divine mercy cardinal priest with the title of St. Stephen in Monte Celio and legate of the apostolic seat, to all the masters and scholars at Paris - eternal safety in the Lord. Let all know, that having been especially commanded by the lord pope to devote our energy effectively to the betterment of the condition of the students at Paris, and wishing by the advice of good men to provide for the tranquility of the students in the future, we have ordered and prescribed the following rules:

No one is to lecture at Paris in arts before he is twenty years old. He is to listen in arts at least six years, before he begins to lecture. He is to promise that he will lecture for at least two years, unless he is prevented by some good reason, which be ought to prove either in public or before the examiners. He must not be smirched by any infamy. When he is ready to lecture, each one is to be examined according to the form contained in the letter of lord P. bishop of Paris (in which is contained the peace established between the chancellor and the students by the judges appointed by the lord pope, approved and confirmed namely by the bishop and deacon of Troyes and by P. the bishop, and J. the chancellor of Paris).

The treatises of Aristotle, on logic, both the old and the new, to be read in the schools in the regular and not in the extraordinary courses.

The two Priscians, or at least the second, are to be read in the schools in the regular courses.

On the feast-days [about 100 a year] nothing is to be read except philosophy, rhetoric, quadrivialia [books relating to the "quadrivium" -arithmetic, geomtry, music and astronomy], the Barbarisms, [The third book of the Ars major of Donatus], the Ethics [Nichomichean Ethics of Aristotle], if one so chooses, and the fourth book of the Topics [of Boethius]. The books of Aristotle on Metaphysics or Natural Philosophy, or the abridgements of these works, are not to be read, nor "the doctrine" of master David de Dinant, of the heretic Almaric, or of Maurice of Spain.

In the inceptions and meetings of the masters and in the confutations or arguments of the boys or youths there are to be no festivities. But they may call in some friends or associates, but only a few. We also advise that donations of garments and other things be made, as is customary or even to a greater extent and especially to the poor. No master lecturing in arts is too wear anything except a cope, round and black and reaching to the heels - at least, when it is new. But he may well wear a pallium [proper garment for a monk]. He is not to wear under the round cope embroidered shoes and never any with long bands.

If any one of the students in arts or theology dies, half of the masters of arts are to go the funeral, and the other half to the next funeral. They are not to withdraw until the burial is completed, unless they have some good reason. If any master of arts or theology dies, all the masters are to be present at the vigils, each one is to read the psalter or have it read. Each one is to remain in the church, where the vigils are celebrated, until midnight or later, unless prevented by some good reason. On the day when the master is buried, no one is to lecture or dispute.

We fully confirm to them the meadow of St. Germain in the condition in which it was adjudged to them.

Each master is to have jurisdiction over his scholars. No one is to receive either schools or a house without the consent of the occupant, if he is able to obtain it. No one is to receive a license from the chancellor or any one else through a gift of money, or furnishing a pledge or making an agreement. Also, the masters and students can make among themselves or with others agreements and regulations, confirmed by a pledge, penalty or oath, about the following matters: namely, if a student is killed, mutilated or receives some outrageous injury and if justice is not done; for taxing the rent of Hospitia; concerning the dress, burial, lectures and disputations; in such a manner, however, that the university is not scattered nor destroyed on this account.

We decide concerning the theologians, that no one shall lecture at Paris before he is thirty-five years old, and not unless he has studied at least eight years, [later prolonged to 14 years] and has heard the books faithfully and in the schools. He is to listen in theology for five years, be he reads his own lectures in public. No one of them is to lecture before the third hour on the days when the masters lecture.

No one is to be received at Paris for the important lectures or sermons unless he is of approved character and learning. There is to be no student at Paris who does not have a regular master.

In order moreover that these may be inviolably observed, all who presume contumaciously to violate these our statutes, unless within fifteen days from the date of the transgression take care, to correct their presumption in the presence of the university masters and scholars, or in the presence of some appointed by the university, by the authority of the legation with which we are intrusted, we bind with the bond of excommunication.

Done in the year of grace 1215, in the month of August.

Source: Taken from Department of History, University of Pennsylvania, Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History [1897?-1907?], vol 2, no.3, 12-15.

Document # 21

Roger Bacon: Despair over Thirteenth Century Learning

from Compendium Studii Philosophiae

Nevertheless, seeing that we consider not these hindrances from our youth upwards, but neglect them altogether therefore we are lost with infinite error, nor can we enjoy the profit of wisdom in the church and in the three other regions whereof I have spoken above [note: i.e. the conduct of the State, the conversion of the heathen, and the repression of reprobate sinners, on p. 397] For these hindrances bring it about that men believe themselves to stand in the highest glory of wisdom, so that there was never so great an appearance of wisdom nor so busy exercise of study in so many branches and in so many parts of the world, as in the last forty years. [note: i.e. since the rise of the Franciscan and Dominican Friars, the Student-Orders as he calls them below, in contradistinction to the monks, who had already grown careless of learning]. For Doctors, and especially Doctors of Divinity, are scattered abroad in every city and town and borough, especially by means of the two Student-Orders; and this has been only for the last forty years, more or less. Yet the truth is that there has never been so great ignorance and such deep error, as I will most clearly prove later on in this present treatise, and as is already manifestly shown by facts. For more sins reign in these days than in any past age; and sin is incompatible with wisdom. Let us look upon all conditions in the world, and consider them diligently; everywhere we shall find boundless corruption, and first of all in the Head. For the Court of Rome, which once was ruled by God's wisdom, and should always be so ruled, is now debased by the constitutions of lay Emperors, made for the governance of lay-folk and contained in the code of civil law. The Holy See is torn by the deceit and fraud of unjust men. Justice perishes all peace is broken, infinite scandals are aroused. … Let us consider the religious Orders: I exclude none from what I say. See how far they are fallen, one and all, from their right state; and the new Orders [of Friars] are already horribly decayed from their first dignity. The whole clergy is intent upon pride, lechery, and avarice; and wherever clerks are gathered together, as at Paris and Oxford, they scandalize the whole laity with their wars and quarrels and other vices. …

The third consideration from effects is taken by comparing our state with that of the ancient Philosophers; … as all men may read in the works of Aristotle Seneca, Tully [ie Ciciero], Avicenna, Alfarabius, Plato, Socrates, and others; and so it was that they attained to the secrets of wisdom and found out all knowledge. But we Christians have discovered nothing worthy of those philosophers, nor can we even understand their wisdom; which ignorance of ours springs from this cause, that our morals are worse than theirs. For it is impossible that wisdom should coexist with sin, but she requires perfect virtue, …and therefore, when we see everywhere (and especially among the clergy) such corruption of life, then their studies must needs be corrupt. … Wherefore wickedness must needs be uprooted, and the Elect of God must appear; or else one most blessed Pope will first come, who shall remove all corruptions from University and Church and elsewhere, that the world may be renewed, …

The second principal cause of error in the present pursuit of wisdom is this: that for forty years past certain men have arisen in the universities who have created themselves masters and doctors in theology and philosophy, though they themselves have never learned anything of any account; … wherefore, at their entrance into the Orders, they know nothing that profits to theology. Many thousands become friars who cannot read their Psalter or their Donate [note: ie Latin Grammar] yet, immediately after their admission, they are set to study theology. Wherefore they must of necessity fail to reap any great profit, especially seeing that they have not taken lessons from others in philosophy since their entrance; and, most of all, because they have presumed in those Orders to inquire into philosophy by themselves and without teachers, so that they are become Masters in Theology and in Philosophy before being disciples. Wherefore infinite error reigns among them, although for certain reasons this is not apparent by the Devil's instigation and by God's permission. ...

Wherefore all who know anything at all neglect the false translation of Aristotle, and seek such remedy as they may. This is a truth which men lost in learning will not consider; but they seek consolation for their ignorance like brute beasts. If I had power over the books of Aristotle [as at present translated], I would burn them all; for to study therein is but lost time, and a source of error and a multiplication of ignorance beyond all human power to describe. And, seeing that the labors of Aristotle are the foundation of all wisdom, therefore no man may tell how much the Latins waste now because they have accepted evil translations of the Philosopher: wherefore there is no full remedy anywhere. Whosoever will glory in Aristotle's science, he must needs learn it in its own native tongue, since false translations are everywhere, in theology as well as in philosophy. For all the translators [of the Bible] before St. Jerome erred cruelly, as he himself says over and over again....We have few profitable books of philosophy in Latin, for Aristotle wrote a hundred volumes, as we read in his life, whereof we possess only three of any importance: his Logic, his Natural History, and his Metaphysics.... But the vulgar herd of students, with their leaders, have nothing to rouse them to any worthy effort: wherefore they feebly dote over these false translations, losing everywhere their time, their labor, and their money. For outward appearance alone possesses them; nor care they what they know, but only what they may seem to know in the eyes of the senseless multitude.

The thirteenth cause why Latin students need the knowledge of languages is the corruption which besets our studies through the ignorance of learned languages in these days. This cause is complementary of the Latins' error and ignorance. For such books of divine and human wisdom as have been well translated and truly expounded, are now become utterly faulty by reason of the disuse of the aforesaid learned languages in Latin countries. For thus, by the examples already cited, we may set forth clearly enough by way of compendious introduction, and see in general terms, how the Bible has been corrupted. But he who would go into details would not find a single sentence wherein there is no falsehood, or at least no great uncertainty, on account of the disagreement of correctors: and this doubt falls upon every wise man, even as we name that "fear" which falls even upon a constant man. Yet there is falsehood well nigh everywhere, even though doubts be interspersed. And would not these false or dubious passages be cleared away, to the quantity of half the Bible, if we introduced some certain method of proof, as the reasonable manner of correction demands? Wherefore all theologians nowadays, whether reading or preaching, use false texts, and cannot profit, and can consequently neither understand nor teach anything of any accounts.

Source: From C.G. Coulton, ed, Life in the Middle Ages, (New York: Macmillan, c.1910), Vol 2, 55-62 [The translation in Coulton has been considerably modernized here.]