Peter Lombard - Theologian and Author

Peter Lombard - Theologian and Author
Peter Lombard - Theologian and Author
Peter Lombard, best known for his Sententiae in quatuor libris distinctae (The Book of Sentences), was born in northern Italy between 1095 and 1110. Lombard began his formal education close to home at the Cathedral School of St. Mary’s in Novara and continued his studies in Lucca before heading to France in 1133. Three years later on the recommendation of St. Bernard, Lombard was sponsored for further studies in Paris.

By 1144 Lombard was recognized throughout Paris as a prominent theologian. Records indicate that he was appointed canon of Notre Dame in 1145 and participated in the Council of Rheims in 1148. He became an archdeacon in 1156 and was consecrated bishop of Paris in 1159. His reign as bishop lasted no longer than a year, at which point Maurice de Sully replaced him. Most scholars believe this abrupt replacement marks his sudden death in July 1160.

The public works of Peter Lombard include two biblical commentaries, sermons, and his monumental Book of Sentences. Lombard’s first biblical commentary, Glossa in Psalmos (Commentary on the Psalms), was completed early in his career while he was studying in Rheims.

The first draft of his second commentary, Collectanea in Epistolas Beati Pauli (Commentary on the Pauline Epistles), was written a few years later. This document was used in his lectures at Notre Dame and his 1155 revisions incorporated the insights he gained from the comments and criticisms of his students.

Lombard’s interest in theological instruction is best expressed in his masterpiece, The Book of Sentences. Written and revised at the end of Lombard’s life (1155–58), it appeared at an important moment in Christian history. During the 12th century Christian theology was moving in the direction of the Scholasticism that would dominate the coming centuries.

Books of sentences were written by numerous theologians and constitute a unique genre of theological literature. These works represent attempts to arrange, systematize, and synthesize the writings and opinions of the most important church fathers (hence the Latin sententia, which literally means “opinion”).

Lombard and others believed these one-volume compilations would be more accessible to theology students. Lombard’s work was similar in function and style to the more famous Summa theologica, produced by Thomas Aquinas over a century later.

Lombard’s Book of Sentences was originally divided into four books that were further divided into numerous small chapters. Between 1223 and 1227, however, Alexander of Hales grouped these small chapters into topical units that became the standard “distinctions” now associated with each book. In its present form, book one covers 48 distinctions related to the “mystery of the Trinity.”

These distinctions synthesize positions on each person of the Trinity, including positions on God’s knowledge and will. Book two includes 44 distinctions on the doctrine of creation, with a special emphasis on the creation of woman and the doctrine of Original Sin. The nature of Christ, the Incarnation, and the virtues are addressed in the 40 distinctions of book three and book four addresses the sacraments in 50 distinctions.

The content of Lombard’s Book of Sentences places him squarely within the Augustinian tradition. Of the many church fathers cited in The Book of Sentences, Augustine is referenced 680 times. By comparison, the next most referenced theologian (Ambrose) is quoted only 66 times.

This heavy reliance on the writings of Augustine has led some scholars to argue that The Book of Sentences is nothing more than a 12th century reformulation of the ideas of this fourth-century master. Nonetheless his work had a profound influence on the history and development of Christian theology.

The legacy of Peter Lombard and his Book of Sentences rests on the fact that this text served as the primary textbook in Christian theology for almost four centuries. Beginning with the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, every promising theologian had to respond to The Book of Sentences in the form of a lecture.

These lectures were then published and included within the theological works of the various commentators. This process continued until Aquinas’s Summa theologica replaced The Book of Sentences in the 16th century. Thus almost every theologian who lived and studied between the 13th and 16th centuries produced an extended commentary on Lombard’s work.

In fact, apart from the Bible, there has been no piece of Christian literature commented upon more often than Peter Lombard’s Book of Sentences. Some of the most famous commentators include St. Bonaventure (1217–74), Thomas Aquinas (1225–74), Duns Scotus (1266–1308), and Martin Luther (1483–1564).

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