Bishop Stephen of Tournai to the Pope (1192-1203)
A. Having obtained indulgence, let us speak to our lord, whose gentleness emboldens us, whose prudence sustains us in our inexperience, whose patience promises impunity. To this the authority of our ancestors compels us and a disease gradually insinuating whose ills, if not met at the start, will be incurable in the end. Nor do we say this, father, as if we wished to be censors of morals, or judges of doctors, or debaters of doctrines. This load requires stouter shoulders, and this battle awaits the robust frames of spiritual athletes. We merely wish to indicate the sore spot to your holy paternity, to whom God has given both the power to uproot errors and the knowledge to correct them.
B. The studies of sacred letters among us are fallen into the workshop of confusion, while both disciples applaud novelties alone and masters watch out for glory rather than learning. They everywhere compose new and recent summulae and commentaries, by which they attract, detain, and deceive their hearers, as if the works of the holy fathers were still not sufficient, who, we read, expounded holy scripture in the same spirit in which we believe that apostles and prophets composed it. They prepare strange and exotic courses for their banquet, when, at the nuptials of the son of the King of Taurus his own flesh and blood are killed and all prepared, and the wedding guests have only to take and eat what is set before them. Contrary to the sacred canons there is public disputation as to the incomprehensible deity; concerning the incarnation of the Word, verbose flesh and blood irreverently litigates. The indivisible Trinity is cut up and wrangled over in the streets, so that now there are as many errors as doctors, as many scandals as classrooms, as many blasphemies as public squares.
C. Again, if a case comes up which should be settled by canon law either under your jurisdiction or within that of the ordinary judges, there is produced from the vendors an inextricable forest of decretals presumably under the name of Pope Alexander of sacred memory, and older canons are set aside, rejected, expunged. When this plunder has been unrolled before us, those things which were wholesomely instituted in councils of holy fathers neither impose form on councils nor an end to cases, since letters prevail which perchance advocates for hire invented and forged in their shops or cubicles under the name of Roman pontiffs. A new volume composed of these is solemnly read in the schools and offered for sale in the forum to the applause of a horde of notaries, who rejoice that in copying suspect opuscula both their labor is lessened and their pay increased.
D. Two woes are the aforesaid, and lo, a third remains: faculties called liberal having lost their pristine liberty are sunk in such servitude that adolescents with long hair impudently usurp their professorships, and beardless youths sit in the seat of their seniors, and those who do not yet know how to be disciples strive to be named masters. And they write their summulae moistened with drool and dribble but unseasoned with the salt of philosophers. Omitting the rules of the arts and discarding the authentic books of the artificers, they seize the flies of empty words in their sophisms like the claws of spiders. Philosophy cries that her garments are torn and disordered and, modestly concealing her nudity by a few specific tatters, neither is consulted nor consoles as of old. All these things, father, call for the hand of apostolic correction, that the disorder in teaching, learning and disputing may be reduced to due form by your authority, that the divine word be not cheapened by vulgar handling, that it be not said on the street corners, "Lo Christ is here or lo He is there," lest what is holy be given to dogs and pearls be trodden under foot by swine.
Chartularium universitatis parisiensis, I, 47-48. Translation from Lynn Thorndike, University Records and Life in the Middle Ages (New York, 1944), 22-24. Copyright renewed 1972 by Columbia University Press.
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