Those who study the history of the University of Oxford have a tendency to emphasize the famous alumni, such as the great thinkers like William of Ockham or Duns Scotus, or the late-fourteenth-century controversialists and their opponents, like Uthred of Boldon, John Wycliffe and Philip Repyndon. Somewhat less studied are the far more numerous men of moderate intellect and ambition who attended the university for a few years to achieve some modest degree of education and who then returned to their office as parish priest somewhere. These men generally left few surviving records of their university careers; they did not engage in major debates, write important theological treatises, or often even receive a degree. This makes them far harder to study.
But now we have a new window into their academic careers, in the form of F. Donald Logan's University Education of the Parochial Clergy in Medieval England: The Lincoln Diocese, c. 1300-c.1350. As Logan explains in the introduction, his purpose is to explore what we know about the educational requirements for priestly ordination and the arrangements for the continuing education of parish priests. To study this, Logan has poured over the episcopal registers of the diocese of Lincoln in the first half of the fourteenth century, identifying instances in which the bishop issued either a dispensation Cum Ex Eo or a license to study, which authorized the recipient to be absent from his benefice for a set period of time in order to study at a university.
Logan does an excellent job of explaining the subtle distinction between these two often-confused devices. Dispensations were granted only to non-ordained men who held a parochial benefice, on the condition that they be ordained within a year. Thus dispensations were intended to allow a candidate for ordination to improve his education. In contrast, a license to study was issued only to a parish priest to allow him to improve his education. In the three central chapters of this short work, Logan explores the evolution of these two devices as they were used by bishops Sutton, Dalderby, Berghersh, Bek, and Gynwell. In the last chapter, he explores a series of questions that his data can help address, such as how these men were financed, what they may have studied, whether these men returned to their parishes after their studies were complete, and how far we can generalize from Lincoln to the other dioceses of England.
In doing this, he has helped clarify a good deal how the parish clergy of England were trained, what their studies may have meant for their parishes, and how this dynamic may have affected the university of Oxford (the university that the majority of the men seem to have attended). He argues, for example, that the fact that licenses to study were only issued to ordained priests means that the average age of the Arts students at Oxford was somewhat higher than had previously been acknowledged, since priests had to be 24 years old to be ordained.
Equally valuable, I think, is the second half of the book, the "Register of Rectors of Lincoln Diocese Attending University, c.1300-c.1350." This appendix, which is about half the length of the whole book, is simply a listing of every dispensation and license to study that survives in the episcopal registers of the period in question. One of the great works of scholarship on the medieval University of Oxford is A.B. Emden's monumental Biographical Register of the University of Oxford, (Oxford 1957-1959), a three-volume listing of everyone Emden could identify as having attended the university during the medieval period. Those of us who work with the BRUO know both how enormously useful it is and how frustratingly incomplete the work is, of necessity. Deeply mindful of Emden's great project, Logan has essentially expanded the BRUO by adding to it more than 1200 new names (though not all of these men attended Oxford, since some attended Cambridge or in a few cases may even have gone abroad) and by providing useful listings for men who escaped Emden's net. I suspect that this book's value as a research tool will be as useful as the information it provides about the education of parish clergy. Those of us who focus on the University of Oxford will certainly get a great deal of mileage out of the appendix, and the book is a welcome addition for those who focus on parish life, the history of education, and the secular clergy in general.