Louvain, Catholic University of
LOUVAIN, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF
The Catholic University of Louvain is the popular name in the Englishspeaking world for the historic Universitas Catholica Lovaniensis, founded in 1425 in the Flemish city of Leuven. It is the oldest university in the Low Countries with six centuries of distinguished contributions in European intellectual tradition. This entry covers its history in four separate phases: (1) the historic "old university" from 1425 to 1797; (2) the state university founded by the Dutch King, William I from 1817 to 1835; (3) the re-established Catholic university from 1834 to 1968; and (4) the division of Leuven into two independent universities in 1968—the Flemish-language Katholieke Unversiteit te Leuven, located in the old university city of Leuven and commonly abbreviated as K.U. Leuven, and the French-language Université Catholique de Louvain, located in the newly established town of Louvain-la-Neuve, commonly abbreviated as UCL. For the American College affiliated with Louvain, see louvain, american college at.
First Foundation. Through the personal efforts of John IV, Duke of Brabant, Pope Martin V issued a bull on Dec. 9, 1425, establishing a university in Leuven, the capital of Brabant. The papal bull called for the creation of four faculties: arts, canon law, civil law, and medicine. The first home for the university was on Hogeschoolplein, "High School Square." The first 12 professors came from the universities of Paris and Cologne. In 1432, Pope Eugene IV granted permission for the establishment of a faculty of theology at Leuven. The city of Leuven donated the 14th-century cloth weavers' hall to this faculty of the university. Since its inception, the student population has been diverse and international; by 1450 most European nations were represented.
In the 16th century, a number of outstanding names dominated Leuven scholarship. Adriaan Floriszoon Boeyens (1459–1523), elected as Pope Adrian VI in 1522, had been a student, professor, rector of Leuven, and tutor to Erasmus and to the future Emperor Charles V. In his will, Adrian VI instructed that his house in Leuven be turned into a college. After it collapsed in 1775, an impressive Pauscollege or the "Pope's College" was built on the same site. Theologians of Leuven defended papal precedence over councils at the Council of Basel (1431–1439). Leuven's faculty of theology was the first to condemn Martin Luther openly (Nov. 7, 1519). Several Leuven professors later took active and even directive roles in the work of the Council of Trent (1545–1563), including Michael Baius (1513–1589) and Cornelius Jansenius (1510–1576), not to be confused with his namesake, Cornelius Jansenius (1585–1638) also a Leuven professor, the so-called "founder" of Jansenism.
Suppression and Second Foundation: The State University of King William I. Like its counterparts elsewhere, Leuven fell victim to the frequent economic and social unrest, religious strife, and political and military exigencies that enveloped Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Matters hit a low point with the French conquest of Belgium in 1794. On October 24 of that year, the Revolutionary French Republic suppressed the university, seized its properties, and appropriated some 5,000 volumes from the library, or about one-tenth of the total holdings. In 1797 the university was officially closed. After the successful Dutch revolt against the French in 1813, King William (1772–1843), son of William V the Prince of Orange, became King William I of the United Netherlands, encompassing modern-day Belgium. One of William's actions, a major irritation to Belgians, was the re-opening the university at Leuven as a secular state university in 1817.
Third Foundation: The 19th-Century Revival of the Catholic University. As soon as Belgium obtained its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, the movement to establish a Catholic university gathered momentum. Pope Gregory XVI approved the project in a papal brief on Dec. 13, 1833. In 1834 the Belgian bishops established a Catholic university in Mechlin. The university was transferred to Leuven in 1835. The 19th century was an especially favorable period for the development of the theology and philosophy at Leuven. In 1898, a Schola Minor was created to provide preliminary theological training. In the general atmosphere of renewal, characteristic of the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII, theologians from Leuven strove for greater scholastic achievement. The historical-critical methodology that would become the faculty's hallmark, i.e., the close association of positive research and speculative theology, was further developed in each of the disciplines of theological research. A first step was taken in 1889 with the creation of a course entitled "Critical History of the Old Testament" by Albin Van Hoonacker. This course was an early attempt to apply the historical critical method to biblical texts. The appointment of Albert Cauchie as professor of Church History six years later had an even more decisive influence on the renewal of methodology and spirit among Leuven theologians. Cauchie, who founded the Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique in 1900, was the inspiration for a scientific approach in the fields of exegesis (as illustrated by the later publications of Lucien ceraux and Joseph Coppens), patristics (with the work of Joseph Lebon, the founder of Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense, and of René Draguet, the dynamic director of the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium ) and Church history (as seen in the efforts of Albert De Meyer who, in 1928, took over the direction of the Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques ). The launching of a new theological journal, the Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses in 1923 and the inauguration of the Colloquium Biblicum Lovaniense after the Second World War, increased the reputation of Leuven theology and bore witness to the continuation of its exegetical tradition. The Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium continues to publish, among many other items, the proceedings of the biblical colloquia.
The linking of tradition and contemporary life refection, so important to the Leuven theological tradition, has been equally important for the Leuven philosophical tradition. Founded in 1889, the Institute of Philosophy at Leuven has undergone a steady process of growth and development. During its first decades, the Institute focused on medieval philosophy, especially the thought of Thomas Aquinas. At the same time an ongoing dialogue with the new sciences and their offshoots, positivism and scientism, complemented the study of Thomism.
In his encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879), Pope Leo XIII (1810–1903) had recommended the study of Thomas Aquinas as an impetus for the renovation of Christian intellectual life in modern society. Psychology, anthropology, sociology and other new sciences presented themselves as a challenge to Church doctrine. Leo XIII believed that a revised Thomism would provide a framework within which the Church could address the new sciences and integrate them within traditional Christian belief. Before becoming pope, Leo had been papal nuncio in Brussels and had first-hand knowledge of Leuven. In October 1882, under continued pressure from Pope Leo XIII, the reluctant Belgian bishops agreed to establish a chair of Thomistic Philosophy at Leuven. A young professor from the diocesan seminary in Mechlin, Désiré Joseph mercier (1851–1926), later to become the archbishop of Mechelen, was the first to be named to the new chair. Mercier combined a profound sense of Thomas with a lively interest in contemporary issues.
In 1887 Mercier proposed that a specialized institute should be established as a center for instruction as well as research. In 1889 Pope Leo approved Mercier's plan and the Leuven "Higher Institute of Philosophy" was established. The foundation of the Revue Néo-Scolastique in 1894 gave the Leuven school an international forum for its conception of an "open" Thomism. In order to achieve his project of revitalizing Thomism, Mercier recruited a core of specialists from diverse fields. In 1893 he brought in four young professors to assist him: Désiré Nys (1859–1927) who devoted himself to the natural sciences and worked out an open Thomistic cosmology; Armand Thiéry (1868–1955) who had studied experimental psychology with Wundt in Leipzig; and Simon Deploige (1868–1927) and Maurice de wulf (1867–1947). Deploige, who succeeded Mercier as president of the Institute (1906 to 1927), was primarily interested in social and political philosophy. De Wulf devoted himself to the study of the history of philosophy. His History of Medieval Philosohy was a pioneering investigation into medieval thought.
Leuven in Two World Wars. The city of Leuven and its university suffered greatly in both world wars. The university's greatest physical loss was the August 1914 burning of the university library with its 300,000 volumes, 1,000 or more ancient manuscripts and all its archives. "Ici finit la culture Allemande " was the sign the Belgians attached to the walls of the burned-out library, after German troops left town. As a result of the heroic efforts of Paulin Ladeuze (1870–1940), then rector of Leuven, and of the indefatigable Cardinal Mercier, a new library was established with donations from alumni, individuals, other educational institutions, and the government of the United States of America.
World War II brought new destruction to Leuven and to its university. Not only was there a second burning of the university library in 1940, but also its rector, Honoré van Waeyenbergh, was imprisoned in Brussels by German authorities for refusing to turn over lists of student names as well as refusing to accept German professors at Leuven. The key figure who managed the university's affairs during the war, enforcing the policies of Van Waeyenbergh, was the vice-rector Léon Joseph suenens, later cardinal archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels. Following World War II, the rector Van Waeyenbergh effectively carried out a major expansion of programs and facilities at the university and established a Catholic University of Lovanium in the Belgian Congo.
Vatican II. Leuven theologians, under the leadership and inspiration of Cardinal Suenens, played a significant role in the deliberations at Vatican II. These periti worked with the Belgian bishops and with their former students, many of whom were present as Council fathers. A Leuven theologian, Msgr. Gerard Philips, was prominent in the deliberations that led to the formulation of the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium. The years following Vatican II witnessed an attempt by Leuven's theologians to enter into dialogue with scientists and others who engage in the study of the human condition, seeking to develop a theological language faithful to tradition and in touch with the mentality and situation of modern times.
Division into Two Universities. In the 1960s, Leuven was caught up in the crossfire between the Frenchand Flemish-speaking communities. In the wake of student riots, ethnic unrest, and government upheavals, Leuven was reorganized into separate Flemish-language and French-language universities in 1968—the Flemish Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in the old university city of Leuven and the French Université Catholique de Louvain on an entirely new campus, Louvain-la-Neuve, about 20 miles away from the historic city of Leuven. On May 28, 1970 the Belgian parliament gave separate legal status to each of these two divisions. In 1972 the first faculties were installed in the new university at Louvain-laNeuve.
Another result of this linguistic separation was the offering of classes, especially in theology and philosophy, in the English language on the old campus in the university city of Leuven. In later years, the French-language university too began to offer some programs in English. Each university, in its own way and to varying degrees, has remained faithful to the original vision and tradition, with a strong international faculty and student presence. Despite the cleave, there came a tremendous growth in student enrollment. By 2000, the student population at Leuven was approaching 26,000, while the student population at Louvain-la-Neuve had reached 21,000.
The tense relations between both universities during the 1970s later gave way to a more congenial and collaborative atmosphere, especially with the joint celebration in 2000 of the 575th anniversary of the first foundation at Leuven. Both universities are united in the common academic tradition of the historic Universitas Catholica Lovaniensis. Although each university has its own rector and academic council, they are united under the archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels, the grand chancellor of each of the universities.
Bibliography: e. lousse, The University of Louvain during the Second World War (Bruges 1946). v. denis, Catholic University of Louvain, 1425–1958 (Louvain 1958). L'opinion publique belge et l'université de Louvain. Enquête sociologique sur les problèmes de l'université et divers (Louvain 1967). l. de raeymaeker, Le Cardinal Mercier et l'Institut supérieur de philosophie de Louvain (Louvain 1952). j. t. ellis, The Influence of the Catholic University of Louvain on the Church in the United States (Louvain 1982). u. dhondt and f. j. bock, Leuven, the Institute of Philosophy (1889–1989) (Leuven 1989). e. lamberts and j. roegiers, eds., De Universiteit te Leuven (Leuven 1986). Leuven University, 1425–1985 (Leuven 1990). l. kenis, The Louvain Faculty of Theology in the Nineteenth Century: A Bibliography of the Professors in Theology and Canon Law: With Biographical Notes (Leuven 1994). d. aerts and c. coppens, Leuven in Books, Books in Leuven: The Oldest University of the Low Countries and Its Library (Leuven 1999).
[j. a. dick]