The Cross, a Monk, and the University System

The Cross, a Monk, and the University System April 1, 2024

The Modern Outlook

Have you ever noticed that if you visit a city in the U.S. or Europe, there seems to be a university either in that city or in a city adjacent to it? The picture above shows a snapshot of where major universities are located globally (Along with their scores). These centers of learning have dominated the world for upwards of 1,000 years and have represented an important aspect of our culture: Meritocracy.

When one hears gossip that seems unfounded, the question comes up: “What is your source?”

When information is passed along to someone that they don’t like, you hear the question: “What is your source?”

And when information is passed along that challenges someone’s worldview, the question becomes 2-fold: “What is your source?” and “Where did the source come from?”

These questions communicate the kingship of merit in our culture. Where information comes from is well-worth knowing as you want to make sure the the person speaking on a matter have studied the subject in question.

The sources worth their salt, traditionally, come from these dots on the map. In fact, in most ranking systems, the top 10 universities in which most of the “desired” sources come from are Western(1):

1. MIT – United States

2. University of Cambridge – United Kingdom

3. Stanford University – United States

4. University of Oxford – United Kingdom

5. Harvard University – United States

6. Caltech – United States

7. Imperial College London – United Kingdom

8. UCL – United Kingdom

9. ETH Zurich – Switzerland

10. University of Chicago – United States


It isn’t until you branch out to the top 20, that you see 4 non-western universities:

11. National University of Singapore – Singapore

12. Peking University – Mainland China

14. Tsinghua University

19. Nanyang Technological University (NTU) – Singapore


Still 16 out of the top 20 Universities are Western.


Rankings Aside, If you are looking for the oldest Universities in the World… You should look to the West

Christendom has provided the world with the University System as we know it. In fact the first universities founded were out of the Christian West.

The first whisper of a University was a Medical School founded in Salerno Italy in the 9th century.

Yet, the first true University was founded in Bologna and it function was as a canon and civil law school in the 11th century.

This was followed by founding of the University of Paris (1150), The University of Oxford (12th century), the University of Naples (1224), the University of Toulouse (1229), and the University of Cambridge (1209). And going forward from the rest of the 13th century to the 15th century, Universities were founded in France Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium, and Scotland. The Christian West dominated the educational world, and by the 1700s almost all of the universities in the west taught grammar, geometry, astronomy, and music along with other disciplines.


Humble Origins

The dawn of the University is taken for granted easily as we are surrounded by educational institutions that are seemlingly on every corner, in every commericial, and in every online ad. Online schooling has taken our head out of the world before us where attending University came at a serious cost, often necessitating a huge amount of travel and a lack of convenience and comfort. Yet, the origin of this system has very humble beginnings.

It wasn’t from the materialistic worldview whose proponents tend to overstate their rich tradition.

Pantheists and Pagans could do nothing but dream of creating such a rich tradition.

It wasn’t from the Kings, bishops, and Popes trying to placate the people and indoctrinate them into believing only what they wanted (if this was the reason then it an abysmal failure.)

The origins of this system find its root in a discipline that so many Christians today take for granted: Biblical Training.


Studia Generalia

As a seminary student, I’ve heard so many people (well-intentioned Christians) ask me why on earth I would want to go to seminary.

  • “It doesn’t teach you how to talk to people.”
  • “It will puff you up with knowledge.”
  • “It will keep you rigid and narrow.”
  • “It seems pointless.”

All of these statements have been passed on to my ears and yet when answering questions from my Middle and High School students, I continue to be grateful that I am in a theological instituion that is training me to discuss the mysteries of God and how to know Him and adequately follow Him. I am grateful for the moments where I am able to wrestle with modes of interpretation that I have never heard of before. And I relish the oppotunity to have focused study in Greek and Hebrew as well as Church History and doctrine.

It was for purposes like this that the beginnings of the University were founded for. The studia generalia (Latin for Institute of Studies) was started in order to train monks to a higher level than that of monastic schools and beyond the level of cathedral.

These institutions developed a cirriculum later in their history (touched on earlier) that would be well rounded:

Grammar – Mastery of language

Rhetoric – Exploring the art of persuasion and argumentation

Logic – The art of debate

Arithmetic – This focused on the philosophy of numbers.

Astronomy – Focused on the Platonic Model of the universe

Geometry – Studying Geometric principles was a way of understanding God’s creation.

Music – Related to math and was taught for practical reasons


While the University as we Know it Today Has a Plethora of Options for Study…

We should remember that the beginnings of the University system came out of a humble Christian West who’s people were convicted that Jesus died and rose again for the sins of the humanity and who believed that to study the world around them was to know the Divine.

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