Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Du Boulay, in his “History of the University of Paris,” adopts the old, uncertain, not to say fabulous tradition, which carries its origin to the time of Charlemagne. It is true that such is the opinion of Guagin and of Gilles de Beauvais; but in addition to the fact that contemporary authors, as Eginhard, Almon, Reginon, and Sigebert make no mention of this establishment; Pasquier and Du Tillet expressly assert that it commenced in the twelfth century under the reigns of Louis the Young and of Philip Augustus.

Moreover, the first statutes of the university were drawn up by Robert de Coceon, legate of the pope, in the year 1215, which proves that it received from the first the form it retains at present; because a bull of Gregory IX., of the year 1231, makes mention of masters of theology, masters of law, physicians, and lastly, artists. The name “university” originated in the supposition that these four bodies, termed faculties, constituted a universality of studies; that is to say, that they comprehended all which could be cultivated.

The popes, by the means of these establishments, of the decisions of which they made themselves judges, became masters of the instruction of the people; and the same spirit which made the permission granted to the members of the Parliament of Paris to inter themselves in the habits of Cordeliers, be regarded as an especial favor — as related in the article on “Quête”— dictated the decrees pronounced by that sovereign court against all who dared to oppose an unintelligible scholastic system, which, according to the confession of the abbé Triteme, was only a false science that had vitiated religion. In fact, that which Constantine had only insinuated with respect to the Cumæan Sibyl, has been expressly asserted of Aristotle. Cardinal Pallavicini supported the maxim of I know not what monk Paul, who pleasantly observed, that without Aristotle the Church would have been deficient in some of her articles of faith.

Thus the celebrated Ramus, having composed two works in which he opposed the doctrine of Aristotle taught in the universities, would have been sacrificed to the fury of his ignorant rival, had not King Francis I. referred to his own judgment the process commenced in Paris between Ramus and Anthony Govea. One of the principal complaints against Ramus related to the manner in which he taught his disciples to pronounce the letter Q.

Ramus was not the only disputant persecuted for these grave absurdities. In the year 1624, the Parliament of Paris banished from its district three persons who wished to maintain these openly against Aristotle. Every person was forbidden to sell or to circulate the propositions contained in these theses, on pain of corporal punishment, or to teach any opinion against ancient and approved authors, on pain of death.

The remonstrances of the Sorbonne, in consequence of which the same parliament issued a decision against the chemists, in the year 1629, testified that it was impossible to impeach the principles of Aristotle, without at the same time impeaching those of the scholastic theology received by the Church. In the meantime, the faculty having issued, in 1566, a decree forbidding the use of antimony, and the parliament having confirmed the said decree, Paumier de Caen, a great chemist and celebrated physician of Paris, for not conforming to it, was degraded in the year 1609. Lastly, antimony being afterwards inserted in the books of medicines, composed by order of the faculty in the year 1637, the said faculty permitted the use of it in 1666, a century after having forbidden it, which decision the parliament confirmed by a new decree. Thus the university followed the example of the Church, which finally proscribed the doctrine of Arius, under pain of death, and approved the word “consubstantial,” which it had previously condemned — as we have seen in the article on “Councils.”

What we have observed of the university of Paris, may serve to give us an idea of other universities, of which it was regarded as the model. In fact, in imitation of it, eighty universities passed the same decree as the Sorbonne in the fourteenth century; to wit, that when the cap of a doctor was bestowed, the candidate should be made to swear that he will maintain the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary; which he did not regard, however, as an article of faith, but as a Catholic and pious opinion.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01