Saint Vincent’s Reading List: LXXV The Theology Faculty of the College of the Sorbonne

Decretum Almæ Universitatis Parisiensis. Anno salutis 1626, die XII. Kal. Majas Maturinensi, scribendo adfuerunt rector, Decani, Procuratories, Magistri, Universitas Studiorum. [Paris?]: [Publisher not identified], [1626?]  SpC. 273.7 S233tYu1626

Title page of the book Decretum Almae Universitatis Parisiensis
Title page of Decretum Almae Universitatis Parisiensis, 1626?

The University of Paris, founded in 1150, is the second oldest of the great European medieval universities.  Arguably, it became the most important in Europe. The university was located on the left bank of the Seine in the famous Latin Quarter (so-called because Latin was spoken as the academic language). One of the university’s premiere faculties was that of theology founded in 1253. The elite of the theology faculty were headquartered in the College of the Sorbonne. They emerged as the most important body of theologians within the numerous colleges of the University of Paris, and arguably the most learned and influential body of theologians in any of the pre-revolutionary European Catholic universities. When Vincent de Paul refers (as he often does) to the “doctors of the Sorbonne” he is referring to this body of collegiate theologians. Vincent acknowledges, with great respect, the role of the doctors of the Sorbonne, and consulted them on many occasions.[1]

         The theologians of the Sorbonne were accorded a significant level of magisterial authority for Catholicism within France, and were considered as both the defenders of Catholic orthodoxy against Protestantism, as well as guardians of the famous Gallican Liberties of the French Church. These Gallican Liberties protected the autonomy of the French Monarchy, and the French Church, from over-reaching papal authority especially after the Council of Trent.

         In 1625, Antonio Santarelli, an Italian Jesuit, published a work defending the power of the pope to depose kings, to punish them, and for just cause to release subjects from their oath of fidelity. The papacy had done just this in 1570, when Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I of England, and called for her overthrow. The Catholic monarchs of Europe, especially in France, realized that a weapon that the pope could unleash against a Protestant monarch, was equally a weapon he could unleash against a Catholic monarch. Santarelli published his work with the permission of the Jesuit superior general, Mutio Vitelleschi. The work was dedicated to Cardinal Maurice de Savoy, an enemy of French interests.

         Santarelli’s work caused a storm of controversy in France. The Jesuits, despite their power and influence, had a difficult time in France because of their Ultramontane loyalty to the papacy. They and the Jansenists would be bitter enemies. Decretum Almæ Universitatis Parisiensis is the decree of the doctors of the Sorbonne condemning the work as representing a “new and pestilent doctrine.”  This decision led the following year to the Parlement of Paris’ order that the book by Santarelli be publicly burned. The French Jesuits had to disavow the book’s contents, or face expulsion for the kingdom.

  Vincent de Paul always professed a great admiration for the Jesuits, and was among their defenders. It must also be said that he was moderate in his Gallicanism, and in his Ultramontanism. He carefully walked along a tight-rope which kept him and the Congregation of the Mission on excellent terms with both the King of France, and the Pope.     

[1] See for example, Pierre Coste, C.M. Pierre Coste, C.M., Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, ed. and trans. Jacqueline Kilar, D.C., Marie Poole, D.C., et al., vols. 1–14 (New York: New City Press, 1985–2014). Hereafter cited as CCD, 4:438.

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