Today in Catholic History – The opening of the University of Heidelberg

On 19 October 1386, the first lectures were given at the University of Heidelberg making it the oldest university in Germany.

Because of the Great Schism which had split the Catholic Church between allegiance to Rome or to Avignon, German professors in Paris who gave their allegiance to Rome were unable to remain at the University of Paris. Rupert I, the Elector Palatine of the Rhine, took advantage of the situation to get papal support to establish a new university for these German professors in Heidelberg to be modeled after the University of Paris.

The University played an important part in the history of Europe and was involved in many of the religious controversies of the period including the Councils of Constance and Basel. It also received the support of the papacy throughout this period. In April 1518 Martin Luther debated at the University and when Otto Henry, the Elector Palatine, became Calvinist he made University into a Calvinist institution. During the late Counter-Reformation, the University came under the control of the Jesuits and later the Lazarists. Over the next centuries, the university entered a period of decline until it was reestablished as a state-owned institution in 1803 and it remains a public university today.


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