A Question of Fish: Graduates and their Monasteries in the Middle Ages
English Benedictine History, 23 (1997)
The purpose of this paper is not to tell the story of medieval English monasticism and its relationship with the universities. That has been done elsewhere and has been done often. Rather, what I want to do is to focus upon what seems to me to be a neglected aspect of this history, namely the impact that the existence of graduate monks had upon their own communities. The life of monks in Oxford, their studies here and their other activities have all been studied in depth, but the more abstract question of their impact has been less well covered. We need to remember that for almost all of those who came to study at the three monastic colleges of Oxford and the monastic house in Cambridge, university was a transient experience, something which, however agreeable, would have to come to an end.
My aim is to proceed to answer the question of what kind of impact they had by a series of steps. In the first place, it is important to grasp how very privileged life at the universities was, attracting both supporters in the persons of those who were here, and opponents amongst those who feared that learning detracted from the heart of monasticism. Secondly, we need to understand the purpose of sending monks to university in this period, for it is only by understanding clearly what was intended by the monastic colleges that we can understand the impact of their produce.