The Medieval University

The Medieval University

By J.E. Healey

Canadian Catholic Historical Association – Report, Vol. 17 (1950)

Introduction: Let us take some young lad and follow him through a medieval university. Where shall we send him, for different universities were early noted for their specialties? The boy’s father, a physician of some repute, might be anxious for him to follow his footsteps to Salerno, while his uncle might stress the advantages of Bologna and law. A canon of the cathedral, on the other hand, might push the claims of Paris in philosophy and theology. For these three were the archtypes of medieval universities. Every other university was a conscious and deliberate imitation of Paris or Bologna; what differences there were, were due to adaptation to local circumstances.

But the time for decision might be some years off ; the boy is young and not sufficiently prepared for university studies. While academic entrance requirements were not a matter of university legislation, it is scarcely conceivable that a youth go to a university without being able to read, write, and understand Latin, the language of instruction in all faculties in all universities. Naturally the students’ knowledge varied some were fluent, some knew little. The dullards could get by for a time, even for a lengthy time, since there were no mid-term tests or yearly examinations; nothing but the examinations immediately preceding the degree. But eventually the dullard and the play-boy would tire of the life and drop out.

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