The Collège de Sorbonne was a theological college of the University of Paris, founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon, after whom it is named. With the rest of the Paris colleges, it was suppressed during the French Revolution. It was restored in 1808 but finally closed in 1882. The name Sorbonne eventually became synonymous with the Parisian Faculty of Theology. In more recent time, it came to be used in reference to the entire University of Paris. It is now the name of the main campus in the Ve arrondissement of Paris, which houses several universities (heirs to the former University of Paris) as well as the Paris rectorate.
The College was originally a graduate college. It was planned for graduates who had already acquired a degree of M.A. and were taking courses leading to the doctorate in theology. It quickly built a prestigious reputation as a center for learning. By the 13th century, there were as many as twenty thousand foreign students resident in the city, making Paris the capital of knowledge of the Western world. Today, foreign students still make up a significant part of its campus.
The Sorbonne became the most distinguished theological institution in France, and its doctors were frequently called upon to render opinions on important ecclesiastical and theological issues. In 1622–1626, Cardinal Richelieu renovated the Sorbonne; the present buildings date from this time, with later restorations dating from 1885. In his honour, the chapel of the Sorbonne was added in 1637. When Richelieu died in 1642, he was interred in a tomb in this chapel.
The faculty's close association with the Church resulted in its being closed down during the French Revolution, which had strong anti-clerical sentiment. Napoleon reopened it in 1808 to serve as part of the University of Paris. Between then and 1885, the Sorbonne served as the seat of the university's theology faculties and of the Académie de Paris. At the end of the 19th century, the Sorbonne became an entirely secular institution.
Robert de Sorbon was a native of Le Réthelois, a distinguished professor and famous preacher who lived from 1201 till 1274. Sorbon found that there was a defect in the primitive organization of the University of Paris. The two principal mendicant orders—the Dominicans and the Franciscans—each had colleges at Paris where they delivered lectures which extern students could attend without fee.
Robert de Sorbon decided that the university should also provide free instruction, so that it could compete with the religious orders. Further, he believed the society of professors should follow the practices of the cenobitic life, except in vows. His important work was made possible by the high esteem in which de Sorbon was held at Paris, together with his intellectual brilliance, great generosity, and the assistance of his friends. The foundation dates from 1257 or the beginning of 1258. Guillaume de Saint-Amour, Gérard d'Abbeville, Henry of Ghent, Guillaume des Grez, Odo or Eudes of Douai, Chrétien de Beauvais, Gérard de Reims, Nicolas de Bar were among the most illustrious scholars connected either with the first chairs in the Sorbonne, or with the first association that constituted it. These savants were already attached to the university staff.
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