Jiménez de Cisneros: On the Threshold of Spain's Golden Age

By Erika Rummel | Go to book overview

4 The University of Alcalá and
the Complutensian Polyglot

The foundation of the university of Alcalá, more than any other enterprise, establishes Cisneros’ credentials as a figure of the Renaissance. The will to sponsor a cultural institution of this magnitude speaks of the Archbishop’s commitment to learning. The financial and organizational difficulties surrounding the building project itself and the efforts to secure official status for the institution further attest to Cisneros’ cultural concerns. It is his support for language studies, however, that give Alcalá a place in the history of humanism. Although it is perhaps an exaggeration to speak of the homo complutensis, the “Alcalá scholar”, as a unique type representing Spanish Renaissance humanism (Andres, Teología española, 40), the significance of the university is undisputed. The focus on language studies and the philological approach to biblical scholarship practised at Alcalà were innovative and, at the time, regarded as controversial. In conservative circles the application of philological principles to an inspired text met with indignation. The first biblical humanists — Lorenzo Valla in Italy, Jacques Lefèvre in France, and Desiderius Erasmus in the Low Countries — were targets of numerous polemics. Cisneros, by contrast, welcomed humanists at his university and supported their philological and textual researches. He did, however, retain a measure of control over the publication of their findings, as we shall presently see.

The College of San Ildefonso, where the three biblical languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, were taught, was the heart of the new university (a separate Collegium Trilingue was built after the Cardinal’s death, in 1528). Alcalá has been compared with similar foundations providing for instruction in the biblical languages at Louvain and Paris. There are, however, significant differences in institutional character between Alcalá and the North European foundations. The Collegium Trilingue at Louvain, privately financed out of the legacy

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