SORBONNE, the name given originally to the college founded by Robert de Sorbon in Paris; hence applied afterwards popularly to the theological faculty, and so to the institution which is now the seat of the Academic of that city (see UNIVERSITIES). The Sorbonne owes its origin and its name to Robert of Sorbon, near Reims (1201-1274), who went to Paris about the beginning of the reign of St Louis in order to qualify for the priesthood, attained high repute by his sanctity and eloquence, and was appointed by the king to be his confessor. Assisted by royal liberality, he built a modest establishment in which were accommodated seven priests charged with the duty of teaching theology gratuitously; to this he added a college of preparatory studies, all under the direction of a provisor, under whom was an annual prior who had the actual management. The new institution was authorized in 1252 by a deed signed by Queen Blanche, on behalf of Louis IX. (who was in Palestine); and in 1257 a site was given by the king in the heart of the Latin quarter. It was declared " useful to religion " by Pope Alexander IV. in 1259, and papal bulls authorizing and confirming the college were granted in 1263 and 1268. Destined originally for poor students (and called domus magistrorum pauperrima, " most poor house of masters "), the Sorbonne soon became a meeting-place for all the students of the university of Paris, who resorted thither to hear the lectures of the most learned theologians of the period Guillaume de Saint Amour, Eudes de Douai, Laurent 1'Anglais, Pierre d'Ailly. At the close of the century it was organized into a full faculty of theology, and under this definite form it conferred bachelors', licentiates' and doctors' degrees, and the severity of its examinations gave an exceptional value to its diplomas. The so-called " these sorbonique," instituted towards the beginning of the 14th century, became the type of its order by the length and difficulty of its tests. Ultimately the professors of the Sorbonne came to be resorted to not only for lectures and examinations, but also for dogmatic decisions and judgments in canon law; the clergy of France and of the whole Catholic world had recourse to them in difficult cases, and the Curia Romana itself more than once laid its doubts before them, giving them the title of " Concilium in Gallia subsistens." To the Sorbonne belongs the glory of having introduced printing into France in 1469: within its precincts it assigned quarters for Ulric Gering and two companions in which to set up their presses. The Sorbonne took a leading part in the religious discussions which agitated France during the 16th and 18th centuries, and its influence thus inevitably extended to political questions. During the insanity of Charles VI. it helped to bring about the absolution of Jean Sans-Peur for the assassination of the duke of Orleans.
Shortly afterwards it demanded and supported the condemnation of Joan of Arc; during the Reformation it was the animating spirit of all the persecutions directed against Protestants and unbelievers: without having advised the massacre of St Bartholomew, it did not hesitate to justify it, and it inflamed the League by its vigorous anathemas against Henry III. and the king of Navarre, hesitating to recognize the latter even after his abjuration. From this point dates the beginning of its decadence, and when Richelieu in 1626 ordered the reconstruction of its church and buildings the following prophetic couplet was circulated "Instaurata ruet jamjam Sprbona. Caduca Dum fuit, inconcussa stetit; renovata peribit."
The declaration of the clergy in 1682, which it subscribed, proved fatal to its authority with the Curia Romana; it revived for a short time under Louis XV. during the struggle against Jansenism, but this was its last exploit; it was suppressed like the old universities in 1792.
When the university of France was organized in 1808 the Sorbonne became the seat of the academic of Paris; and between 1816 and 1821 the faculties of theology (since disappeared), science and literature were installed there. The university library was transferred to the Sorbonne in 1823. In 1868 was organized the ficole des Hautes Etudes, and in 1897 tHe Ecole des Chartes also found its home at the Sorbonne.
In 1852 the Sorbonne was made the property of the city of Paris; a reconstruction of the buildings, projected by Napoleon III., was begun in 1884, under the architectural direction of Nenot, and completed in 1889. The old church containing the tomb of Richelieu was retained on account of its artistic merit. This new Sorbonne is one of the finest university edifices in the world, and has developed into the chief French centre of learning.
See A. Franklin, .La Sorbonne (1875) ; Denifle, Documents relatifs a la fondation de Vuniversite de Paris (1883); J. A. Randolph, History of the Sorbonne.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)