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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > A > The Faculty of Arts

The Faculty of Arts

One of the four traditional divisions of the teaching body of the university. It is impossible to fix the date of the origin of autonomous faculties in the early medieval universities, because, as Denifle has observed, the division did not take place all at once, or as the result of deliberate action, but came about gradually, as the result of a spontaneous inner development. As a matter of fact, the formation of faculties sprang from the same academic impulse that gave rise to the universities themselves. The mother universities of Europe were those of Paris and Bologna. The germ of the University of Paris was the voluntary association of the teaching Masters, after the fashion of the universally prevalent guild-formation. At Bologna, it was the association of the students that gave rise to the corporate university. In both places it was but natural, and, as it seems to us now inevitable, that the teachers in a common field of knowledge should gradually come to act together along the lines of their identical interests. Such unions appear to have been formed soon after these two universities came into existence, if indeed they did not exist before. Schools of arts, theology, law, and medicine had been established throughout Europe previous to the organization of the universities, and the separate existence of such schools foreshadowed the division of the university teaching-body into faculties. Although there is evidence of the existence of a general association of the Masters at Paris, about the year 1175, the first direct proof of the existence of faculties in the same university goes back only to the year 1213. The four faculties then recognized were theology, arts, canon law, and civil law. The term faculty was used at first to designate a specific field of knowledge; but in 1255 we find the Masters at Paris using the term in the modern meaning of a union of the teachers in a certain department of knowledge. The new turn given to the meaning of the word was not without significance. The centre of power, the "facultas", had shifted from the objective to the subjective side of knowledge. Henceforth the teacher was to be the dominant influence.

The term Arts, in medieval academic usage, comprehended all studies in the sphere of the higher and non-professional intellectual activity. The traditional "liberal arts" derived from the Romano-Hellenic schools, were seven in number. They were made up of the trivium, embracing grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic, and the quadrivium, or music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. The trivium may be said to have corresponded to the Arts studies proper in the modern college course, and the quadrivium to the science studies. While the medieval universities held to the traditional number of the liberal arts, they did so only in a theoretical way. New subjects were at times introduced into the curriculum, and classified as belonging to one or other of the seven arts. The instruction given under the several arts was, quantitatively as well as qualitatively, very unequal. The trivium generally formed the body of the Arts curriculum, especially up to the B.A. degree. After that, more or less of the quadrivium was given, together with advanced courses covering the ground of the trivium. Grammar was a wide term. Theoretically, it included the study of the whole Latin language and literature. Rhetoric was the art of expression, both in writing and speaking. It corresponded to what we should now call, in a broad sense, oratory. Dialectic was the study of philosophy, including logic, metaphysics, and ethics. In philosophy, Aristotle was the great authority, the Magister, as he came to be reverentially called. Certain of his treatises had long been known throughout Europe, and these, together with the logical works of Boethius, were called, in school parlance, the "Old Logic," in contradistinction to those Aristotelian treatises which became known in Northern Europe only in the twelfth century, and hence were designated as the "New Logic." The old cloistral and cathedral schools had kept alive the study of the Latin classics, and handed it on to the universities; but the passion for dialectic swept aside the study of grammar and rhetoric. The Latin authors were but little read, or not at all; the Greek classics were unknown. It was not until the rise of Humanism in the fifteenth century that the study of the ancient literatures of Rome and Greece was, generally speaking, made a regular and important part of the university course in Arts.

The following list includes the books that were to be "read," or lectured on, by the Masters of the Faculty of Arts, at Paris in 1254. It covers the period of six or seven years from entrance, or matriculation, up to the Master's degree, and, were the "disputations" added, it might be regarded as typical of the Arts course in the medieval universities generally. A specific date was set for finishing the "reading" of each book.

  1. Old Logic: Porphyry, "Isagoge" (Introduction to the Categoriae); Aristotle, "Categoriae" and "Perihermenia"; Boethius, "Divisiones" and "Topica," except Bk. IV.
  2. New Logic: Aristotle, "Topica," "Elenchi," "Analytica Priora," and "Analytica Posteriora."
  3. Ethics: Aristotle, "Ethica," (ad Nichomachum), four books.
  4. Metaphysics: Aristotle, "Metaphysica."
  5. Astronomy: Aristotle, "De Coelo," "Meteora," first Bk.
  6. Psychology and Natural Philosophy: Aristotle, "Physica," "De Animalibus," "De Anima," "Da Generatione," "De Causis (attributed at the time to Aristotle), "De Sensu et Sensato," "De Somno et Vigilia," "De Plantis," "De Memoria et Reminiscentia," "De Morte et Vita," Costa Ben Luca, "De Differentia Spiritus et Animae."
  7. Grammar and Rhetoric: Priscian Major (16 books of his "Institutiones Grammaticae"), Priscian Minor (last two books of the same); Gilbert de la Porrée, "Sex Principia"; Barbarismus (third book of Donatus, "Ars Major"); Priscian, "De Accentu," (Cf. Chartularium Univ. Paris, Part I, n. 246.)

Masters of Arts, like masters, or doctors, of other faculties, were divided into regents and non-regents. Regents were Masters actually engaged in teaching. All who received the degree of Master in the Arts course at Paris, had to take an oath to act as regents, i.e. to teach, for a period of two years, unless dispensed. The purpose of this statute was, partly at least, to provide a sufficiency of teachers for the Arts course, which usually included the great mass of the students of the University, and which was the necessary gateway to the higher studies of theology, law, and medicine. As the Master's degree, at Paris, could be taken at twenty years of age, the consequence of the regency rule was to make the Faculty of Arts a body of young men, many of them being at the same time students of one of the higher faculties or preparing to become such. Teaching included lectures, disputations, and repetitions. It was long before there were salaries, the Masters being dependent on what they were able to collect as tuition-fees from their pupils. The oath requiring newly created Masters to teach for a period at the university was abolished at Paris only in 1452. At Oxford the custom was continued for a half-century later, and some vestiges of it remained until comparatively recent times. The Privatdozent of the modern German university represents a development of the medieval regency rule.

At Oxford and Cambridge, which have the most faithfully adhered to the medieval archetype, the Faculty of Arts still occupies a position of predominant importance. At Oxford, especially, the Arts studies still furnish the materials for the most characteristic type of mental training given by the University. The B.A. course is followed by the great majority of the students, and philosophy, much of it Aristotelian, is still the backbone of the body of knowledge for all candidates for the Baccalaureate. The Master of Arts at Oxford on taking his degree becomes a member of the Faculty by right, and a member of the governing body of the University as well. The governing body consists of two houses, the Congregation and the Convocation, the former including all resident Masters of Arts, and the latter those who are non-resident. Outside of England, the relative position of the Faculty of Arts in the university has been considerably altered since medieval times. The promising development of the Arts studies under Humanism was checked in Northern Europe by the absorbing theological controversies and civil wars which grew out of the preaching of the new doctrines by Luther and the other reformers. The effect was most evident in Germany, where, until the close of the seventeenth century, the course in Arts, or Philosophy, as it had come to be called, was relegated to a position of decided inferiority. Theology was in the foreground, and it became the fashion to look upon the study of the classics with contempt. With the eighteenth century, however, a new era began. Under the lead of the new universities, Halle and Goettingen, philosophical studies gradually regained a place of importance in the universities, and during the nineteenth century completely recovered their ancient prestige. Taking Germany as a whole, the Faculty of Philosophy includes today about one-fourth of all the teachers in the universities. In modern times the development of knowledge, especially of the sciences, has, in some universities, led to a fundamental change in the constitution of the Faculty of Arts. Owing to the multiplication of courses, the teachers in the Faculty of Arts in many cases outnumber those in all the other Faculties together. The difficulties arising out of this condition come not only from the fact that the Faculty of Arts in such cases is a larger body than it formerly was, but also from the fact that its members have fewer interests in common. In the days when Aristotle was the text-book for both philosophy and science, it was natural enough that teachers of the two branches should work side by side; their cooperation was based on both principle and method. But today there is often little in common between them, except what results from the traditional association of their respective subjects under the same faculty. In France, the problem has been met by splitting the Faculty of Arts into two separate faculties, those of Letters and of Science. At most of the German universities the Faculty of Philosophy has remained intact, but the old humanistic group of studies and the mathematical-science group receive recognition respectively as distinct departments. In a few institutions, the problem has been solved, as in France, by dividing the Faculty of Philosophy into two separate faculties, or even into three. In American universities and colleges the Faculty of Arts occupies much the same position as at Oxford, although there is considerable diversity in the names by which it is officially known. It usually has under its jurisdiction the great majority of professors and students, and all courses of study outside of the purely professional and technical departments. In some cases the Faculty has been split up into several distinct faculties; but in general there has been a strong desire to adhere to the medieval tradition that all cultural studies, whether undergraduate or post-graduate, whether in the arts or in the sciences, should be grouped together, the danger of inefficiency being guarded against usually by dividing the Faculty into a number of departments, each of which controls, to a greater or less extent, the work of its instructors and students.

Sources

For bibliography, see ARTS, BACHELOR OF.

About this page

APA citation. Burns, J. (1907). The Faculty of Arts. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01757a.htm

MLA citation. Burns, James. "The Faculty of Arts." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01757a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Suzanne Gabric.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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