Sorbonne, the principal school of theology in the ancient university of Paris. It was founded in 1253 by Robert de Sorbonne or Sorbon, so called from his birthplace in Champagne. He had been a poor student, but became chaplain to Louis IX. in 1252, and founded with the king's aid a collegiate school for the gratuitous education of poor students in theology. He secured the services of three secular professors, Guillaume de Saint-Amour, Eudes de Douai, and Laurent Langlois, and. formed with them, and 16 poor students under his own direction, a community which served as a model for similar collegiate schools in the universities of France and England. The charter granted in 1253 by Louis IX. was confirmed and enlarged by Pope Clement IV. in 1268. Before 1253 theological instruction was given in the bishop's school near the cathedral of Notre Dame; thenceforward it was given exclusively at the Sorbonne. Robert also founded near the college a preparatory seminary called "the little Sorbonne," which was destroyed in 1635, when the present church of the Sorbonne was erected on its site.
He provided a library of 1,000 volumes, which was increased by subsequent benefactors, especially by Cardinal Richelieu. The members of the college (maison de Sorbonne) were divided into fellows (socii) and commoners (hospites). The fellows, composing the faculty, were all secular priests, doctors or bachelors in divinity, selected for their eminent learning, after undergoing the test of a severe public examination, a triple ballot, and teaching a course of mental philosophy. Besides the strict necessaries of life provided in the college, the poorest among them received a trilling stipend. The commoners were required to be bachelors in divinity, were chosen from among the most talented of their class after the most rigorous ordeal, and were maintained by the college, but had no voice in its government. The fellows were nominated for life, and were officially designated " fellows or bachelors of the house and society of the Sorbonne;" the commoners were styled "bachelors of the house of the Sorbonne," and their membership ceased on their graduating as doctors. The college property was vested in the fellows, and all business was managed in their name. A perfect equality reigned among them; the holding of office implied no superiority or power of one over another.
No member of a religious order was admitted into their body, and a fellowship was forfeited by entering such an order. The exceeding rigor exercised in the selection both of fellows and of commoners was for the purpose of maintaining a high standard of intellectual culture among the secular priesthood. But the vast lecture halls attached to the college were open to all poor scholars indiscriminately, and the professors were pledged never to refuse to teach any such, while students who had means were required to pay the usual university fees. From 1253 to 1789 at least six doctors of the Sorbonne were constantly employed in giving gratuitous instruction. The high standard of excellence thus maintained by the faculty, and the large number of distinguished scholars who went out from the Sorbonne to fill the highest ecclesiastical and civil offices in every European country, raised this celebrated school to an unri-valled pitch of fame and influence all through the middle ages and down almost to its suppression.
Its controlling power was felt in the contests between the university of Paris and the mendicant orders, Guillaume de Saint-Amour being the chosen advocate of the former and the uncompromising foe of the friars; the Sorbonne was appealed to in the disputes between the civil powers and the papacy, and in the great theological controversies and long schisms that divided the church. It opposed the claims of ultramontanism, decided against the divorce of Henry VIII. from Catharine of Aragon, condemned the docrines of Luther, Calvin, Baius, Jansenius, and Quesnel, sustained the Catholic league against Henry of Navarre, and declared in 1588 that Henry III. had forfeited the crown. The Sorbonne was specially favored by Cardinal Richelieu, who rebuilt on a magnificent scale the college, lecture halls, and church, besides enlarging the library. The first works printed in France were from the presses of the Sorbonne. These were established in 14G9 by Jean de la Pierre, prior of the Sorbonne, and Guillaume Fichet, rector of the university.
In 1470 they published Gas-parini Pergamensis Epistolarum Liber, followed by other publications in Latin, French, Greek, and Hebrew. The Sorbonne was suppressed in 1789, and at the organization of the modern university of France by Napoleon I. its buildings became the seat of the faculties of science, letters, and theology of the acade-mie universitaire; but the faculty of theology is scarcely a shadow of its predecessor.