"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."
2 Timothy 3:16
From the seed of the university system sprang up advances in technology, human rights, worldview, and social change that produced the modern era. Without universities, we wouldn’t have revolutionaries who unlocked the secrets of the universe through science, created public education, ended open slavery, or created the modern hospital. Each of these innovations can be traced back to specific people who were trained by the early Christian-founded universities, like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale.
University education was a specific concept shaped largely by followers of Jesus. Early Christians standardized this education system to spread the ideas of Jesus to other parts of the world and to future generations. Just 300 years after Jesus’s birth, early Christians formed the first schools in Christian monasteries. These monastic schools initially focused on teaching the Christian Bible. Subjects like math and logic were added later to complement the study of Jesus.
The monastic schools then birthed cathedral schools, which Jesus-followers opened in dozens of European cities. Cathedral schools taught children the ways of the church and basic literature. These Christian cathedral schools laid the foundation for our modern K-12 education. (Some Christian cathedral schools from AD 500 still exist today!)
Around AD 1000, graduates of cathedral schools began receiving a higher education from their local Christian church building (cathedrals) in dozens of cities throughout Europe. This new learning system was known as “universita,” a Latin word that means “the whole, total, or universe.” The “universita” planted the seed of our modern universities.
The universita revolutionized education in a way that changed the world. Outside of Christian schools, most ancient learning was based on memorization and conformity. However, universita students were encouraged to think and decide for themselves, to form their own ideas, and ask challenging questions. This freedom of independent thought came from the universita’s Christian roots-- the Bible’s teachings that all people are made in God’s image and, like Adam and Eve, are free to choose God’s way or reject Him.
The universita incubated mental stimulation and intellectual exploration. This freedom in education led to revolutionary ideas, like the Scientific Revolution, Western democracy, literacy for all people (ability to read and write), and universal public education for all children (boys and girls).
Universitas like Oxford University soon planted other schools, which multiplied to become our modern colleges and universities.
Treatise on Natural Science
This 1300 AD Manuscript is typical of the books by medieval university students
Map of Universities
Map of Medieval Universities Historical Atlas, 1923
Meeting of Doctors
Illustration from the 14th century showing doctoral students at the University of Paris