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Out of the Crisis into Progress: The "Hohe Schule"

The university in Jena owes its existence to the deliberate emergence out of a crisis. When the political, intellectual, and religious interests clashed in the middle of the 16th century, the Ernestinian dukes lost much of their power in the Reich. They used, however, this external collapse of their reign for a new beginning - the establishment of a Lutheran reform university in Jena depicts one of the most important elements of this new beginning.


 Johann Friedrich I.; Quelle: Kustodie, Inv.-Nr. GP 182

Johann Friedrich I. (Source: Kustodie, Inv.-Nr. GP 182)


The "Better Wittenberg"

Jena took the place of the university in Wittenberg. This university was lost by Johann Friedrich I. (1503-1554) as well as his electorate of Saxony after his defeat in the War of Schmalkalden. Johann Friedrich - in vernacular, Hanfried - head of the Schmalkaden Confederation of 1531 for the Defense of Protestantism, served in the army under Kaiser Karl V. on April 24, 1547, in the slaughter by Mühlberg on the Elbe. Hanfried was taken prisoner and lost about two thirds of his land. Only the regions around Eisenach and Gotha as well as Weimar, Jena, Saalfeld, and Coburg remained.

Even in the political, territorial, economic, social, and religious crisis, which daily put the continued existence of their dynasty into question, the Ernestinians wanted to continue the tradition of defending the true Lutheran teachings. Although Philipp Melanchthon had returned to the university in Wittenberg, which was reopened by the Kurfürst Moritz von Saxony, the Ernestinians still believed that the new Hohe Schule" in Jena represented the true Lutheranism; Jena was to them the "better Wittenberg."

Reputation, Competition, Tradition

From today's perspective it seems peculiar that the establishment of a new "Hohe Schule" was so important to the sons of Hanfried, who ruled in the name of their imprisoned father. This establishment solved, however, many problems at once. The possession of a university was tradition for the Ernestinians. Due to the reputation of their dynasty and the competition with their Albertinian cousins, they did not want to relinquish this tradition. The "Hohe Schule" in Jena was the intellectual and cultural counterpart to the new grand center of their main residence in Weimar. They were motivated by their territorial and ruling claim that could be secured with the new protestant educational institution. The establishment of a university was hence a suitable way to successfully overcome the crisis.

In spite of all the dukes' political and economic difficulties, the new establishment found solid foundations. Philipp Melanchthon, who was the "star" in Wittenberg after Luther's death, was supposed to come to Jena to personally protect the institutional continuity to Wittenberg. Because the scholar feared political and financial risks, he stayed true to his university. In Jena's new "Akademisches Gymnasium" two of his former students replaced him: the theologian Victorin Strigel (1524-1569) and the orator and poet Johannes Stigel (1515-1562). In the following years, they found support from numerous new scholars, who wanted to defend the right" Lutheranism and therefore did not want to teach in Wittenberg.

On the Way to University

In March 1548 Hanfried's sons made a quick decision regarding the establishment of a new university in Jena. They feared the loss of Strigel and his (paying) students. Besides that, numerous other subjects demanded the establishment of the institution. On March 19, 1548, the "Akademisches Gymnasium" was ceremoniously opened. If this happened without the agreement of the imprisoned father, who first commented in a letter on March 22, is not able to be determined.

171 people registered for the first semester in the Dominican monastery, which would later become the Collegium Jenense, and were taught by Strigel and Stigel. For the reputation of the young "Hohe Schule," it was important that Hanfried's library of 3,000 works (Bibliotheca Electoralis), which was the university library in Wittenberg, was made available to the "Akademisches Gymnasium." This action was a further symbol that the new establishment in Jena would continue in continuity with the old Ernestinian University in Wittenberg.

The numerous crises in the Reich supported the new "Hohe Schule" in Jena rather than hindering it. The new religious and political quarrels that influenced the following years threatened the young educational institution; however, in the end they contributed to the fact that the "Hohe Schule" in Jena was officially recognized as a university in 1557 by the roman King Ferdinand I. With this recognition Jena was able to present itself in 1558 as the leading Lutheran reform university, which the Ernestinians had imagined in 1548.


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