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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > P > University of Prague

University of Prague

The University of Prague was founded by Charles IV with the consent of the Estates on the model of the universities of Paris and Bologna and confirmed at the emperor's request by Clement VI as a studium generale. It was established by the Golden Bull of 7 April, 1345, and received imperial sanction 14 September, 1349 Archbishop Ernst of Pardübitz took an active part in the foundation by obliging the clergy to contribute. Its official title is "Imperial and Royal Franz Ferdinand University"; at the present time it is divided into two completely separated universities, one German and the other Bohemian or Czech, each having four faculties (namely, theology, jurisprudence, philosophy, and medicine), each its own rector and four deans. Both universities are national and are under the immediate control of the Imperial and Royal Ministry of Education at Vienna. All professors are appointed by the State, even the theological professors; these latter are appointed in agreement with the Archbishop of Prague, who is chancellor of both theological faculties.


From the time of its founding the University of Prague was equipped with four faculties, of which each came gradually to elect its dean for one half-year, and jointly the rector, at first for a year, then later for a half-year. On account of a dispute about an inheritance the faculty of law separated from the rest of the university in April, 1372, and from that time on, with the consent of the king, formed what might be called an independent university under the direction of a dean of its own; the chancellor was the only official whose authority extended to all the faculties; this office was held in perpetuity by the Archbishop of Prague. The list of matriculations from 1372 to 1418 of the faculty of law is still in existence. The lectures were held in the colleges, of which the oldest was the Carolinum. The chapel of the Carolinum still stands and serves as the chapel of the university for the ceremony of giving degrees. Theological instruction was given in the Carolinum and in the monasteries. For the administration of its affairs the university was divided into four "nations", according to the native land of the teachers and students, namely: the Bohemian, including Bohemians, Moravians, southern Slavs, and Hungarians; the Bavarian, including Austrians, Swabians, natives of Franconia and of the Rhine provinces; the Polish, including Silesians, Poles, Russians; the Saxon, including inhabitants of the Margravate of Meissen, Thuringia, Upper and Lower Saxony, Denmark, and Sweden. Each nation had a vote in all deliberations regarding the affairs of the university. This was changed in 1409.

Although in 1403 the university had forbidden its members to follow the teachings of Wyclif, yet his doctrine constantly gained adherents in the Bohemian nation, the most conspicuous being the magister, Jerome of Prague, and John Hus. The latter had translated Wyclif's "Trialogus" into Czech. In 1401-02 Hus had been dean of the faculty of arts, in 1402-03 rector of the university; he had also been an exceedingly popular preacher at the Bethlehem chapel. The majority of the other three nations of the university had declared themselves, together with the Archbishop of Prague, on the side of Gregory XII, to whom King Wenceslaus IV was opposed, and Hus knew how to make use of the king's displeasure at this to obtain from him what is called the "Kuttenberg Decree" of 18 January, 1409. This gave the Bohemian nation three votes in all the affairs of the university and only one vote to all the other nations together; the result of this decree was the emigration of the German professors and students to Leipzig in May, 1409. In 1408 the university had about 200 doctors and magisters, 500 bachelors, and 30,000 students; it now lost a large part of this number, accounts of the loss varying from 5000 to 20,000 including 46 professors. This was the beginning of the decline of the university, from now on a national Bohemian institution, which sank to a very low status. For the faithfulness of Hus's opponents led to a far-reaching division between the theological and the secular faculties, as the latter held firmly to his teachings even after he was burnt by the Council of Constance (1414). The faculty of arts became a centre of the Hussite movement, and the chief doctrinal authority of the Utraquists.

On account of the part taken by the university in ecclesiastico-political affairs, its position as a centre of learning suffered. No degrees were given in the years 1417-30; at times there were only eight or nine professors, as in 1419 the faculties of theology and law disappeared, and only the faculty of arts remained in existence. There were also very few students, for many were unwilling to study under the Calixtine faculties and therefore went into foreign countries. The holdings of the university were taken by the Emperor Sigismund as his personal property. Under the impulse of Humanism some progress was made by the philosophical faculty when the Emperor Rudolf II (1612) took up his residence in Prague, but it did not last long. The only thing to the credit of the university was what it did in directing the school system of the country. In the meantime the Emperor Ferdinand I had called the Jesuits to Prague, in 1556, and these had opened an academy near St. Clement's, the imperial letter of foundation being dated 1562. This academy comprised a gymnasium of six classes as well as an institute for teaching theology and philosophy arranged according to the "Plan of Study" (Ratio studiorum) of the Society. At first there was only one teacher for each of the two departments of theology and philosophy. In addition, a large college was built near St. Clement's, which on this account was called the Clementina, or, after its founder, the Ferdinandea. The right of giving degrees, which it received from the emperor in 1562, was sharply contested by the old university, the Carolina.

After the battle of the White Mountain, the Jesuits, who had been expelled in the years 1618-21, came to have a predominant influence over the emperor in matters concerning instruction on account of their "Plan of study", and the great work they did for Catholicism. An imperial decree of 19 September, 1622, gave them the supreme control of the entire school system of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. In November of the same year, after the resignation of the remaining four professors, they were also given control of the Carolina together with nine colleges, and all the rights and revenues of these, so that whoever was rector of the Jesuit college was the future rector of the Carolo-Ferdinandea. The right of giving degrees, of holding the chancellorship, and of appointing the secular professors was also granted to the Jesuits. Cardinal Ernst, Count von Harrach, who opposed this union of the university with another institution and the withdrawal of the archiepiscopal right to the chancellorship, prevented the drawing-up of the imperial Golden Bull for the confirmation of these grants. He also founded an archiepiscopal seminary of his own, the Collegium Adalbertinum, in order to secure his influence over the students in training for the priesthood. In 1638 Ferdinand III limited the monopoly of teaching enjoyed by the Jesuits by taking from them the rights, properties, and archives of the Carolina, the faculties of law and medicine, and making these once more independent under an imperial protector. During the last year of the Thirty Years' War the Karls Bridge of Prague was courageously defended against the Swedes by the students of the Carolina and Clementina under the leadership of the Jesuit Father George Plachý. After this war the university received its permanent constitution and by a formal ceremony (4 March, 1654) the Carolo-Ferdinandea was again united and placed under a chancellor, the Archbishop of Prague, and an imperial superintendent. The Jesuits retained all the professorships in the philosophical and theological faculties up to 1757, when a Dominican and an Augustinian were also appointed to give theological instruction. In the two secular faculties the number of lay professors increased after the abolition, in 1612, of the obligatory celibacy of the professors. The secular professors were appointed by the emperor, the Jesuit professors were merely presented to him. They held closely to the Ratio studiorum of the Society and, in regard to discipline and jurisdiction, they were entirely their own masters. The theological faculty had four regular professorships; that of law, four to six; the philosophical, three to five; the medical, five.

The dilapidated Carolinum was rebuilt in 1718 by Max Kanka at the expense of the State. The university was strictly Catholic: the profession of faith that had to be made on receiving a degree before the chancellor, the Archbishop of Prague, excluded non-Catholics from the professorships; the rector granted the degrees for the ecclesiastical chancellor (pro cancellario). The laws of the university prescribed that the whole teaching corps should receive Communion on Maundy Thursday and (after 1602) should take part as a body in the Corpus Christi procession. From 1650 those who received degrees took an oath to maintain the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin as long as the Church did not decide against it, and this oath was annually renewed on 8 December by all the cives academici. Such, on the whole, was the status which continued until the bureaucratic reform of the universities of Austria in 1752 and 1754. This reform deprived the universities of many of their corporate rights, and rectors appointed by the State were placed at the head of the faculties; as neither the rectors nor the deans so appointed were professors, the Senate was little more than an ornamental body. Matters remained thus until 1849. A great change was brought about in the entire school system of Austria by the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773: secular priests now received positions in the theological faculty, and laymen were appointed to the philosophical faculty. In 1781 the prevailing Josephinism opened academic offices to non-Catholics, and this was followed, in 1785, by the appointment of the first Protestant as professor in the philosophical faculty; in 1781 Jews were permitted to study at the university, and in 1790 they were allowed to receive degrees. The juramentum de Immaculata Conceptione and the profession of faith on receiving a degree were dropped in 1782. The new regulations concerning studies (1784) increased the number of professorships and teaching positions in all the faculties; German was made the language of instruction, only pastoral theology and obstetrics were taught in Czech. In 1784 the professors dropped the dress peculiar to the university, which has been retained to the present only by the five proctors, the upper proctor and the proctors for the four faculties. The university was completely under the guardianship of the state, which prescribed the text-books, themes for disputation, semi-annual examinations and fees; in making all these changes, practical training was kept in view. It was not until the revolutionary year of 1848 in which the students of the University of Prague took up arms that a radical change was made.

The "regulation respecting study" of 1 October, 1850, is based upon freedom of teaching and learning. By this law and that "concerning the organization of academic boards of control" the early autonomy of the university with its independent election of rectors and deans was restored. The religious limitations upon academic degrees and positions were to be entirely removed; although as late as 1863 a Protestant elected dean of the philosophical faculty failed of confirmation by the State. Since that time the election of non-Catholics as deans and rectors has been of common occurrence. Jews, also, have held the office of dean, but not, so far, that of rector, two who were elected having declined the position. Great difficulties have arisen from the national conditions. One indication of the constitutional tendency was a constant development of the national and political consciousness of the Czech majority of the Bohemian people. The university recognized this to a limited degree by founding parallel Czech professorships. Thus, in 1863, out of 187 lecture courses 22 were in Czech; the number was increased but even this did not satisfy the Czechs. Consequently, after long negotiations, the Carolo-Ferdinandea was divided into a German and a Bohemian Karl-Ferdinand University, by the law of 28 February, 1882. The academic authorities and institutions of each section are entirely independent of the other section; only the aula in the Carolinum and the university library are in common. The separation came into effect in the winter semester of 1882-83, but it did not include the theological faculty, where lectures are generally given in Latin, on account of the opposition of Cardinal Schwarzenburg. Under Schwarzenburg's successor, Cardinal Count Schönborn, this faculty was also divided in the winter semester of 1891-2, while the archiepiscopal seminary for priests remained mixed in nationality. The sum of 93,000 kronen is required for the maintenance of the 150 students of this seminary — i.e. about 620 kronen apiece (a krone is twenty cents). Of this amount 32,043 kronen come from the revenues of the seminary; the rest is granted by the State. The separation and the constantly increasing needs of the work of teaching make new buildings necessary. Two new university buildings to replace the inadequate Carolinum are in course of construction.

Present condition

In the winter semester of 1909-10 the German Karl-Ferdinand University had 1778 students; these were divided into: 58 theological students, for both the secular priesthood and religious orders; 755 law students; 376 medical; 589 philosophical. Among the students were about 80 women. The professors were divided as follows: theology, 7 regular professors, 1 assistant professor, 1 docent; law, 12 regular professors, 2 assistant professors, 4 docents; medicine, 15 regular professors, 19 assistant, 30 docents; philosophy, 30 regular professors, 8 assistant, 19 docents, 7 lecturers. The budget for the year (not including building expenses) was: 1,612,246 kronen ($322,450) for regular expenses, 94,534 kronen for extraordinary expenses. The student associations, copied from those in the German Empire, are highly developed. The principal ones are: the "Reading and Debating Club of the German Students" founded in 1848, with about 500 members; the "Germania", founded in 1892, with 600 members (both Liberal associations); the Catholic association, "Academia", founded in 1909, with over a hundred members. In the face of over twenty student corps which have colours of their own and favour duelling, the three Catholic corps with about a hundred active members have a difficult position; yet they continually increase in number. In aid of the students there is a German students' home with a hundred rooms and a students' commons. The Bohemian Karl-Ferdinand University in the winter semester of 1909-10 included 4319 students; of these 131 were theological students belonging both to the secular and regular clergy; 1962 law students; 687 medical; 1539 philosophical; 256 students were women. The professors were divided as follows: theological faculty, 8 regular professors, 2 docents; law, 12 regular, 7 assistant professors, 12 docents; medicine, 16 regular professors, 22 assistant, 24 docents; philosophy, 29 regular, 16 assistant, 35 docents, 11 lecturers. The annual budget amounts to 1,763,790 kronen ($352,758) for regular expenditures, and 117,760 kronen for extraordinary expenditures, without including building expenses. The theological faculty is temporarily housed in a private residence. The "Academic Reading Society" (Akademický ctenárský spolek) is Liberal in religion, the "Svaz cesko-slovanas-kého studentstva" is more radical still. In comparison with these the Catholic associations are comparatively weak. They are: "Druzstvo Arnosta z Pardubie" (100 to 200 members), "Ceska akademicka Liga", and the Slavonic "Dan". In addition to the Hlaska house of studies for students, there is a Catholic home for students founded by Ernst von Pardübitz. The library common to both universities, and to which the public is also admitted, contains 375,630 volumes; among these are 3921 manuscripts, and 1523 early printed books. The expenses of the library for 1910 were 178,509 kronen ($35,702).


TOMAK, Gesch. der Prager Universität (Prague, 1849); IDEM, Gesch. von Prag (12 vols., Prague, 1856-1901), in Bohemian; ZSCHOKKA, Theologische Studien und Anstalten im Osterreich (Vienna, 1894), 157-219; ERMANN-HORN, Bibliographia der deutschen Universitäten, II (Leipzig, 1904), nn. 14790 sqq.; Die Karl-Ferdinands- Universität in Prag 1848-1898 (Prague, 1898); Prag als deutscher Hochschulstadt (2nd ed., Prague, 1910); RASHDALL, Universities of the Middle Ages, II (Oxford, 1895).

About this page

APA citation. Hilgenreiner, K. (1911). University of Prague. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Hilgenreiner, Karl. "University of Prague." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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