Colleges, Schools, Teachers: Between Church and State in Northern Italy (Xvi-XVII Centuries)

By Sangalli, Maurizio | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Colleges, Schools, Teachers: Between Church and State in Northern Italy (Xvi-XVII Centuries)


Sangalli, Maurizio, The Catholic Historical Review


This study investigates the network of secondary education in northern Italy in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Citing specific examples, the Republic of Venice, the State of Milan, the Duchy of Savoy, it brings into the discussion new information as well as recent research, showing how the Church used education to re-establish its position in society. By providing a sample of individual establishments from different social and political setting, the author tries to promote a "history of comparisons" among the schools (or rather, a "correlated history of schools") and provide information for an atlas of Italian scholastic institutions, that a group of national universities is now in the process of preparing. It is not the scope of this study to investigate the transition from medieval to early modern school systems. Rather, this article charts the response to a profound crisis that affected education in the mid-sixteenth century: the political impact upon the educational system, demonstrating the unifying role of the Catholic Church but also the ways in which each school system responded to the social and political needs of the local state. This work examines seminaria nobilium, colleges, and seminaries directed by the Society of Jesus, the Barnabites, and the Somaschans, connecting history and geography, social and economic factors.

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw significant changes in western Europe: the development of confessional churches, the centralization of nation-states, the growth of concepts of nationhood, and the rise of a bureaucratic class all are symptoms of a radical shift in religion and politics. The situation in Italy was particularly complex; splintered into small states, many of them subject to foreign domination, with the theocracy of the Papal States impacting not only the religious allegiances on the peninsula but also the political allegiances,1 Italy suffered from a complicated context.The role of education in this situation illuminates the context on various levels. Almost always allied to (if not actually run by) the organizations of the Catholic Church, educational establishments responded to a variety of political and social needs. Thus, a study of educational systems demonstrates the goals for religious orthodoxy and unity, the need for educated men to run the professions, society, and the state, and the desire either to enable socio-economic advancement or to consolidate socio-economic standing. Considering only northern Italy in the middle of the sixteenth century, the historian has to confront a varied political situation: without enumerating the smaller states, the main strongholds were the Republic of Venice and the Duchy of Savoy, the Duchy of Milan (under Spanish rule), and the northern extension of the Papal States, centered around Bologna. Consequently, there were four different educational systems that had to accommodate four different political situations.

Prior to the period under investigation, during the medieval period, there were purely local institutions that provided an education: almost every city, as indeed, many villages, had its own school system. Aside from the universities, there were municipal teachers, monastic schools or episcopal schools that responded to local needs. During the sixteenth century, a larger network of educational establishments replaced the early ones, the new schools being often affiliated with religious orders of the Catholic Church that crossed over political boundaries.lt is not the scope of this study to investigate the transition from medieval to early modern school systems. Rather, this article will chart the response to a profound crisis that affected education in the mid-sixteenth century: the political impact upon the educational system. Padua, perhaps the most important university city on the peninsula, lacked teachers who would prepare students for higher education.The Venetian Republic (which ruled Padua) relied upon the adequate network of schools in the city of Venice to educate the young men that it sought to privilege, and concentrated on university-level education in Padua rather than on its secondary schools.

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