The third type of Christian school was the parish or presbyterial school. When the waves of barbarians broke over the Roman world and the tide of barbarism threatened to engulf the social and cultural and educational systems, and as the number of Christian converts had increased, the very continuity of the Christian life through the priesthood was threatened, for the supply of priests was endangered. The answer was to make an adaptation of the system already in use in the episcopal schools: the Second Council of Vaison, A.D. 529, enjoined "all parish priests to gather some boys around them as lectors, so that they may give them a Christian upbringing, teach them the Psalms and the lessons of Scripture and the whole Law of the Lord and so prepare worthy successors to themselves." It appears that a similar action had already been taken in Italy, and was taken later in Gaul. Marrou remarks that this action was a "memorable" one, for it marked the beginning of what was later to develop into the ordinary village school in which the two functions of teacher and village priest were "intimately associated"—an institution new with the West, unknown in any general or systematic form to the Hellenic society.
All three of these schools were limited in range and purpose: they were to produce monks and clerics. The relevant legislation was the enactment that "every Monastery and every Cathedral should have a school for the education of young clerks."
The maximum secular knowledge taught in any of the schools was the seven "liberal arts" of the Trivium and Quadrivium. The Trivium included grammar, which used some literature by way of illustration, and rhetoric and dialectic. The Quadrivium included arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. In Alcuin's time only Aristotle's De Interpretatione and the translations of Porphyry were known; of Plato, only three dialogues were known: the Timaeus, Phaedo, and Meno — all in the Latin of Boethius.
However, probably the earliest of the Medieval Western schools that could be called a university was the school at Salerno. Already in the tenth century the city was famous for the skill of its physicians. The famous physicians seem to have attracted students to them so that by the first half of the twelfth century some kind of organized teacher-student association was described as "existing from ancient times." Of the eleventh century revival of interest in legal, theological, dialectical, and medical studies, that in medicine appears to have been the earliest. This interest, together with the beginnings of medical instruction in Salerno, led to the establishment, in the twelfth century, of the "university"—which was primarily or purely a medical school. Salerno was the one exception to the general rule that southern Italy took no part in the great intellectual movements of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries.
In northern Italy already by about A.D. 1000 Bologna was a centre of studies and had begun to attract some scholars from outside the city, and later in the eleventh century, the study of law had begun to be a professional study separate from that legal study which was a part of general education.
In France of the eleventh century the most important school was the Cathedral School at Chartres. At Chartres during the first quarter of the century under Bishop Fulbert the Trivium and Quadrivium constituted the curriculum.
The teaching of grammar included literature by way of illustration and used Donatus as the textbook for beginners, Priscianus for the more advanced. The teaching of dialectic used the logical works of Aristotle, Porphyry's Introduction, Cicero's Topica and Boethius's discussion of logical categories and the kinds of syllogisms as commentaries on the main texts.
Towards the close of the eleventh century the reputation of the Cathedral School in Paris had begun to increase, and after Abelard's professorship there, Paris became a city of teachers. One of the great educational movements of the eleventh century was the gradual transfer of teaching activity from the monks to the secular clergy.
It should perhaps be added that Paris was also the home of the "collegiate" system: about 1257 Robert de Sorbonne, chaplain to the king, founded the "college" or "house" of Sorbonne as a college for sixteen men, four from each nation, who had already taken the master's degree and wanted to go on with the advanced studies that led to the Theological Doctorate. By the sixteenth century "the Sorbonne" included the whole Theological Faculty of Paris.
A second French university was founded at Montpellier in the twelfth century on the model of the school at Paris—a university of Masters.
In England, Oxford seems to have originated in a migration of students and masters of the English Nation from Paris about A.D. 1167; in 1209 a migration from Oxford founded the university at Cambridge.
Thus by the end of the twelfth century there were six universities in the West: Salerno, Bologna, Reggio (founded by migration from Bologna), Paris, Montpellier, and Oxford. In the thirteenth century in Italy four original university foundation were established and four more by student migrations; in France three new universities were established, in England, Cambridge; in Spain and Portugal, four.
In the thirteenth century the term Studium Generale came into general use, and this is the term that perhaps most closely corresponds to the vague British and American idea of a "university." The Studium Generale at this time meant, not a place where all subjects were studied, but an institution with three characteristics: it had students from all parts, it had a plurality of Masters, and it had at least one of the higher Faculties, i.e., Theology or Law or Medicine. By the fourteenth century popes and emperors were founding universities by bull and charter, and Rashdall excludes from the "category of universities all bodies" which came into existence after A.D. 1300 that were not founded by pope or emperor. In the fourteenth century there were five papal and two imperial foundations in Italy, three papal and one imperial in France, none in England, one papal foundation and two by royal charter in Spain, as well as papal foundations in Prague, Vienna, Erfurt, Heidelberg, Cologne, Cracow, and Buda, and Fnfkirchen in Hungary (the two latter foundations were extinct within a century). The fifteenth century witnessed the foundation of two more universities in Italy, nine in France, three in Scotland, seven in Spain, eleven hi Germany and Switzerland, as well as one at Pressburg (Poszony) in Hungary and one each at Upsala and Copenhagen. Thus the total number of twelfth-century universities was six; thirteenth century, sixteen; fourteenth century, twenty-two; and fifteenth century, thirty-five; giving a grand total of seventy-six for the four centuries.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the larger universities probably had between two and five thousand students each and the number at the largest — Paris and Bologna — in later centuries probably never exceeded six or possibly seven thousands.
The education given at the universities in the seven arts in the thirteenth and later centuries was secular: "A student in the Arts would have been as little likely to read the Bible as he would be to dip into Justinian or Hippocrates." The church provided little professional education for the future priest and less for the ordinary layman; even the bishops seem, in so far as they required any real standard of learning from candidates for holy orders, to have insisted mainly on secular learning." Seminaries for priests, catechisms, instruction and preparation for the first communion, and so on, are the product of Counter-Reformation, not of the education, clerical or other, of these centuries.
This, in very brief, was the educational situation in the West until the rise of modern Western science, the elevation of the vernaculars to the dignity of literary languages, and the emergence of individualism with that literary and artistic revival called "the Renaissance."
The legacy of these early medieval Western universities to the educational ideals and standards of the modern West is enormous. Rashdall is emphatic in showing that if the term "university" is appropriate for a modern Harvard or Oxford or Heidelberg or a medieval Paris or Bologna or Cambridge, it cannot be applied in the same sense to any school of antiquity. The ideas that teachers should be united into a corporate body, that teachers of different subjects should teach in the same place and be joined by a single institution, that an attempt should be made to have the body of teachers represent all human knowledge, that studies should be grouped into different faculties, that students should, after their preliminary training, confine themselves, at least partially, to one faculty or department — all this derives from the great twelfth- and thirteen-century academic foundations.
It should be added that the kings and princes of the Middle Ages got their statesmen and civil servants from the universities. Thus again, it was a literary and philosophical training that seemed to qualify a man for the affairs of the world.
Thus in the Middle Ages there were factors which united a society and defined specificity of training and education. First of all, it is Christian tradition, influence of antique tradition and, at last, mentality of a person. The Middle Ages also cannot be presented without barbarous pre-christian tradition. A believing person was an ideal. Monasticism should give a sample of education. An ideal of monastic education was moral education, removal from earthly blessings, self-control of desires, assiduous reading of religious texts, but it did not exclude necessity to get secular knowledge.