Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Poitiers - History


Louis Duchesne holds that its earliest episcopal catalogue represents the ecclesiastical tradition of Poitiers in the twelfth century. The catalogue reckons twelve predecessors of Hilary of Poitiers, among them Nectarius, Liberius, and Agon, and among his successors Sts. Quintianus and Maxentius. Duchesne does not doubt the existence of these saints but questions whether they were bishops of Poitiers. According to him, Hilary (350-67 or 8) is the first bishop of whom we have historical evidence.

Among his successors were St. Pientius (c. 544-60); St. Fortunatus (c. 599); St. Peter (1087-1115), exiled by William IX, Count of Poitiers, whose divorce he refused to sanction; Gilbert de la Porrée (1142–54); William Tempier (1184–97), who, as Barbier de Montault has shown, was irregularly venerated as a saint in certain parts of the diocese since he died subsequent to the declaration of Pope Alexander III which reserved canonizations to the Holy See; Blessed Gauthier de Bruges (1278-1306); Arnauld d'Aux (1306–12), made cardinal in 1312; Guy de Malsec (1371-5), who became cardinal in 1375; Simon de Cramaud (1385–91), indefatigable opponent of the antipope Benedict XIII, and who again administered the diocese (1413–23) and became cardinal in 1413; Louis de Bar (1394-5), cardinal in 1397; Jean de la Trémouille (1505-7), cardinal in 1507; Gabriel de Gramont (1532-4), cardinal in 1507; Claude de Longwy de Givry (1538–52), became cardinal in 1533; Antonio Barberini (1652-7), cardinal in 1627; Abbé de Pradt (1805-9), afterwards Archbishop of Mechlin, Louis Pie (1849–80), cardinal in 1879.

St. Emmeram was a native of Poitiers, but according to the Bollandists and Duchesne the documents which make him Bishop of Poitiers (c. 650) are not trustworthy; on the other hand Bernard Sepp (Analec. Boll., VIII) and Dom Chamard claim that he did hold the see, and succeeded Didon, bishop about 666 or 668 according to Dom Chamard.

As early as 312 the Bishop of Poitiers established a school near his cathedral; among its scholars were Hilary, St. Maxentius, Maximus, Bishop of Trier, and his two brothers St. Maximinus of Chinon and St. John of Marne, Paulinus, Bishop of Trier, and the poet Ausonius. In the sixth century Fortunatus taught there, and in the twelfth century intellectual Europe flocked to Poitiers to sit at the feet of Gilbert de la Porrée.

Charles VII of France erected a university at Poitiers, in opposition to Paris, where the majority of the faculty had hailed Henry VI of England, and by Bull of 28 May 1431, Pope Eugene IV approved the new university. In the reign of Louis XII there were in Poitiers no less than four thousand students — French, Italians, Flemings, Scots, and Germans. There were ten colleges attached to the university. In 1540, at the Collège Ste. Marthe, the famous Marc Antoine Muret, whom Gregory XIII called in later years the torch and the pillar of the Roman School, had a chair. The famous Jesuit Maldonatus and five of his confrères went in 1570 to Poitiers to establish a Jesuit college at the request of some of the inhabitants. After two unsuccessful attempts, they were given the Collège Ste. Marthe in 1605. François Garasse, well known for his violent polemics and who died of the plague at Poitiers in 1637, was professor there (1607-8), and had as a pupil Guez de Balzac. Among other students at Poitiers were Achille de Harlay, President de Thou, the poet Joachim du Bellay, the chronicler Brantome Descartes, François Viète the mathematician, and Francis Bacon. In the seventeenth century the Jesuits sought affiliation with the university and in spite of the opposition of the faculties of theology and arts their request was granted. Jesuit ascendancy grew; they united to Ste. Marthe the Collège du Puygareau. Friction between them and the university was continuous, and in 1762 the general laws against them throughout France led to the Society leaving Poitiers. Moreover, from 1674 the Jesuits had conducted at Poitiers a college for clerical students from Ireland.

In 1806 the State reopened the school of law at Poitiers and later the faculties of literature and science. These faculties were raised to the rank of a university in 1896. From 1872 to 1875 Cardinal Pie was engaged in re-establishing the faculty of theology. As a provisional effort he called to teach in his Grand Séminaire three professors from the Collegio Romano, among them Père Schrader, the commentator of the Syllabus, who died at Poitiers in 1875.

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