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With a decree on April 15th 1361, Pope Urban V established the Universitas Theologorum or Divinity School in Padua, as part of the University of Padua (the second-oldest in Italy and third-oldest in Europe). For centuries the chairs in theology were the monopoly of the religious orders, whose monasteries (which also served as schools) hosted celebrated instructors and their pupils. The Free City of Padua first, and ultimately the Senate of the Republic of Venice, conceded liberties and privileges to the schools, on occasion founding new endowed chairs.
The bishop and cardinal Saint Gregory Barbarigo, great reformer of the cultural, spiritual, and pastoral life in the city between 1664 and 1697, founded a School of Theology in the diocesan Seminary whose degrees and titles, under the “Reformations of Study” in 1771, were recognized as equivalent to those of the University. Religious orders continued to administer the latter until 1797. In 1806 Napoleon suppressed the Divinity School and the College of Theologians.
Napoleon’s defeat and the onset of Austrian rule saw the rebirth of theological studies at the University, as had been customary in other imperial territories for decades. Only with the Concordat of 1855 were the seminaries and the Divinity School returned to episcopal authority. From there, however, and especially after the First Council of the Veneto (1859), university theology began a slow and inexorable decline.
After theology was banned from Italian universities in 1873, the bishop of Padua Giuseppe Callegari received permission from the Holy See to reconstitute the Divinity School in the Seminary, where it would be directly dependent on the Sacred Congregation of Studies and have the right of conferring academic titles throughout the Veneto. The statutes governing the new school, honored with the title of “pontifical,” were passed on 25 September 1894. They remained in effect until the academic reforms instated by Pius XI with his apostolic constitution Deus scientiarum Dominus (1931).
On 1 November 1972 a newly-established Divinity School in Padua was recognized as a “parallel division” of the Divinity School of Northern Italy.
At the request of the Episcopal Conference of the Triveneto, the Congregation for Catholic Education issued an ordinance on 30 July 1986 ushering in ad quadriennium the Superior Institute of Religious Sciences (ISSR) of the “Venices,” to be under the supervision of the Divinity School of Northern Italy. The ordinance was definitively approved ten years later. Over the following decade, the ISSR established, in addition to its main campus at Padua, three satellite campuses, at Udine (1987), Trento (1989), and Verona (1996), which comprised, in effect, a precocious network of academic institutions at the service of the Church in the greater Venetian region.
The precedent set by the ISSR network was recalled in a statement published in 1991 by the Episcopal Conference, “La croce di Aquileia” [“The Cross of Aquileia”], which affirmed:
Collaboration seems particularly urgent and necessary in some areas, and making it a concrete reality should become a priority for our churches. The first is in the development of theological formation within our ecclesiastical region, requiring us to provide for the growth of academic theological institutes to serve as centers of reflection on the truth of faith within the cultural context of the Triveneto and the education of pastoral ministers and teachers (n. 15).
Not least of the work of these years has been the attention given to the particularities of the Church in the Triveneto (a geographical position that opens onto Eastern Europe, an ecumenical vocation, the high concentration of universities). They validate the appropriateness, in keeping with concurrent reforms in theological study throughout Italy promoted by the Italian Episcopal Conference, of establishing a regional Divinity School along a network model. All the theological schools in the Triveneto, whether affiliated with the Divinity School of Northern Italy or to institutions in Rome, in addition to the various ISSRs, have contributed to the project. Schools attached to particular religious orders have furthermore expressed interest in formulating a relationship with the growing Divinity School of the Triveneto.
It is thus that the Divinity School hopes to fulfill its mission of providing rigorous training in the sphere of the theological sciences, firmly rooted in the traditions of its ecclesiastical region.