With the monopoly of learning went the monopoly of ‘higher’ teaching. In the schools that were founded from the seventh century on, by temporal and spiritual lords, it was clerics who taught the tatters of Graeco-Roman science as well as theology and philosophical doctrines of their own—great teachers like Abelard attracted students and caused, occasionally, a lot of trouble for the controlling authorities. In some cases from these schools, in others independently, the self-governing ‘universities’ developed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—incorporated associations of either teachers, as in Paris, or students, as in Bologna, who before long grouped themselves into theological, philosophical, legal, and medical ‘faculties.’ At first, princes and bishops had no more to do with them than what was implied in the granting of corporative privileges and in religious supervision. Accordingly, the universities enjoyed a large measure of freedom and independence; they gave more scope to the individual teacher than do the mechanized universities of today; they were a meeting ground of all classes of society; and they were essentially international. But from the fourteenth century on, government foundations became increasingly frequent. Governments also acquired control of previously independent institutions. Eventually, this changed everything. Government influence not only made for the assertion of purely utilitarian aims but also for restriction of freedom, particularly, of course, in matters of political doctrine. But, precisely because of the power that stood behind the clerical teachers, the universities held their own fairly well until the religious split in the sixteenth century.
The opportunities offered by the universities natural lawly reinforced the old tendency of scholars to become teachers. And since the public was then as prone as it is now to overemphasize the teaching at the expense of the production of what is being taught, medieval men of science were and are usually referred to as Schoolmen or Scholastics (doctores scholastici). In order to disabuse himself of prevailing preconceptions, the reader had better see in these scholastic doctors simply college or university professors. St. Thomas, then, was a professor. His Summa Theologica was, as he informs us in the preface, conceived as a textbook for beginners (incipientes).