The Sacramental World in the Sentences of Peter Lombard
Finn, Thomas M., Theological Studies
"THE ITALIANS HAVE THE papacy, the Germans have the empire, and the French have learning," so the ancient saying goes. Equally ancient is the fact that Paris, in the words of R. W. Southern, was "the Scholastic metropolis of northern Europe," (1) a fact signaled by the rise of the University of Paris in the last decades of the twelfth century. Indeed, prior to the university stood the cathedral schools of Chartres, Laon, Rheims, Orleans, and Notre Dame-de-Paris. And they, in turn, stood in the midst of a rising urban society and the revival of speculative thinking among the masters of the schools, a revival founded on the confidence that reason, coupled with logic and semantics, could shed light on the many subjects not only in liberal arts, but especially in advanced studies: law, philosophy, and theology. (2)
The masters were the early Scholastics--in theology, masters like Anselm of Laon (d. 1117), Abelard (d. 1142/1143), Gilbert of Poitiers (d. 1154), Hugh of St. Victor (d. 1142), and Peter Lombard (d. 1160)--who sought to bring this revival of systematic thought to their disciplines, to create general syllabi that included everything their students ought to know, and to train full-time scholars in disciplinary content, mastery of past authorities, and methodology, including their willingness, and readiness, to criticize, even to set aside, ideas from those traditions deemed to have outlived their usefulness. (3) In the process, these early Scholastic theologians invented a new, systematic way of doing theology that would dominate the centuries to come.
The exemplar is Peter, known as "the Lombard," because he came from Lombardy, born at Novara between 1095 and 1100. (4) Although the first 31 years of his life bask in legends spun from the cloth of his later prominence as Celebrer Theologus and Episcopus Parisiensis, they remain a complete blank. The first documented reference to him is a letter from Bernard of Clairvaux to Prior Gilduin of the recently founded abbey of St. Victor in Paris, recommending Peter, who had proved himself in theology at the cathedral school of Rheims, where the tradition of France's well-known early twelfth-century theologian, Anselm of Laon, flourished.
Peter arrived in Paris in 1136 and studied with Master Hugh of St. Victor. By 1142, however, he was already a celebrated writer and teacher, and hardly two years later ranked with other famous Parisian masters, among them Ivo of Chartres (d. 1115), Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), and Peter Abelard (d. 1142/3), masters, in the poetic words of Walter Map, "whose mouths breathe balsam and nard." (5) As a result of Peter's celebrity, the canons of Notre Dame, in search of a theologian of distinction for their school, elected him a canon of the cathedral in 1144, bringing high profile to the school, which, within several decades, provided the theology faculty of the University of Paris. His career also involved ordination to the diaconate and presbyterate, and eventually to his consecration as archbishop of Paris on July 28, 1159. He died the next year. The epitaph on his tomb was simple, direct, and telling: "Here lies Master Peter the Lombard, bishop of Paris, who composed the Book of Sentences, Glosses of the Psalms and of the Epistles, the day of whose death is the thirteenth of the calends of August." (6)
Peter's rapid advance was all the more remarkable in that he was a complete outsider in the rigidly structured world of regalian France: a Lombard, without feudal status, royal or ecclesiastical network, and no financial standing: possessed only of his status as master and scholar. Clearly it was his status as theologian, teacher, and author that brought him to the canons of the cathedral and to the archbishopric of Paris.
Peter's Published Works
The Scholastic theologians of the early twelfth century lectured principally on Scripture, favoring the Psalms and the Pauline epistles for their hermeneutical and doctrinal studies. Peter's commentary (Glossa) on the Psalms, composed before 1138, and his commentary (Collectanea) on the epistles, composed between 1139 and 1141, became instant classics and the most cited, copied, and studied exegetical works of the century, a judgment confirmed by both his epitaph and the testimony of his friend and disciple, Herbert of Bosham. (7)
With equal speed the Sentences became Peter's crowning work, the text (summa) of his course in theology, the second and final edition of which is dated to the years 1155-1157.(8) Although known to his earliest students as "The Master," very quickly he became known as the "Master of the Sentences," (9) and Alexander of Hales, as regent master of the university, was the first to base his ordinary lectures on the Sentences (ca. 1223-1227) rather than on Scripture. (10) Soon thereafter, a beginning student in the faculty of theology was required to give cursory lectures on the Sentences, holding the rank sententiarus. Newly arrived in Paris at the outset of academic 1252, for instance, Thomas Aquinas was a sententiar for the next four years, revising and publishing his commentary on the Sentences in the form of questions and discussions arising from the text as Scriptum super libros Sententiarum in 1256. (11) Indeed, Martin Luther (d. 1546), who lectured on the Sentences at the University of Erfurt between 1509 and 1511, wrote marginal notes on the copy of the Sentences available to him in the university library of the Augustinian priory at Erfurt, a text complete with summaries of its principal theses by Master Henry of Gorcum (d. 1431). (12) The case can be made that the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) comprise something of a commentary on the Sentences. (13)
In addition to Peter's major works, his status as priest and bishop occasioned a number of sermons, unfortunately neglected until the late 1800s, when scholars studied numerous codices, identifying 33 sermons as authentic. (14)
Peter is considered a pioneer in the development of theological method, soon to be elaborated and fixed in form and method by Thomas Aquinas and his 13th-century colleagues. Indeed, it has been said that "without the Sentences, the Summa Theologica could hardly have been written, or at least, it would have taken a very different form." (15) As already noted, however, Peter was part of an educational world in process of revitalization and renewal. As Marcia Colish observes in her magisterial study of Peter, he and his colleagues were "contributing members of the renaissance of learning that swept through the twelfth-century schools in all fields of learning." (16) Peter and his Scholastic colleagues stood, confronting a massive pedagogical assignment: to design a curriculum for teaching professional theologians, to construct syllabi, to devise pedagogical strategies for training students to think theologically, and to show them how to evaluate and analyze the extensive legacy of Christian tradition and the positions of rival contemporary thinkers. (17)
The result was the invention of systematic theology; the vital means of doing it was the collection of sentences. Though innovators, the twelfth-century masters had a long line of predecessors whose opinions (sententiae) were collected on a wide range of doctrinal, philosophical, legal, liturgical, and practical subjects, all of which had Scripture as their focus. For instance, in the West the sentences were collected and handed down by clerics like Isidore of Seville (d. 636), who sought to restore the traditions of learning in Spain. Famed for the encyclopedic Etymologies, he developed a collection of canons and decretals known as the Collectio hispana, to which he added a manual of doctrine and practice, drawing freely on Western predecessors like Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory the Great. He called the collection, Sententiae, a work that inspired a line of clerical scholars who had a profound impact on the culture and educational practice of medieval Europe. (18)
By Peter's time collections of sentences stretched back well beyond Gregory, Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome to Cyprian of Carthage in the third-century West, and beyond the Cappadocian Fathers and John Chrysostom to Origen and Clement in the third-century East. To these must be added centuries of papal and episcopal magisterial pronouncements and conciliar and synodal decretals. (19)
Serious questions arose, however, when the authorities cited in the collections of sentences disagreed about biblical teaching, doctrine, and practice to the point of contradictions, both apparent and real. Enter the quaestio. Toward the end of the eleventh century at Laon in northwestern France, a distinguished master, Anselm by name, brought its cathedral school fame. Together with his brother Ralph, he created a school of disciples. In his theological teaching, rooted as it was in the Sacred Page, Anselm encountered considerable interpretive discord in the collections of sentences, discord that raised serious questions (quaestiones) about the opinions of the traditional authorities and how to interpret them. Questions, for instance, plagued masters and students alike about impediments to marriage, a rite that had gradually been withdrawing from the secular domain of the civil lawyers and entering the sacramental domain of the church and its canon lawyers. A particularly sticky quaestio arose about whether a prior adulterous affair was an impediment to marriage. The collected sentences provided a clear clash of opinion, in this case between Pope Leo I (440-461) and Augustine of Hippo (357-430). For the pope the answer is a clear yes: "No man may lead a woman into matrimony whom he has first polluted by adultery"; for Augustine, a clear no: "[It] is possible to become the husband of a woman with whom he has committed adultery." (20)
The underlying concern was that the adulterous couple might conspire for the death of the wife's husband (or of the husband's wife)--not a few, it seems, had so conspired. Reflecting his Anselmian predecessors, Peter raises the question in the Sentences, and then resolves the conflict between Leo and Augustine. His solution (determinatio) is: "If the couple repents the adultery and has had nothing to do with the death of her husband, there is no impediment." (21)
On Anselm's death (1117), his disciples collected the sentences, questions, and determinations in systematic texts (summae), the two most important of which are the Sententiae divinae paginae and the Sententiae Anselmi. Although Anselm revered the traditions as he had received them, the questions that arose in his teaching opened the way for rational inquiry, which meant questions that call--sometimes clamor--for reasoned answers. (22)
It was not long before the Anselmian school's best-known student, the lively, restless, and independent-minded Peter Abelard (1079-1143), who found the Anselmians stodgy (to say the least), was a master at the royal abbey school of Ste. Genevieve de Montagne on the outskirts of Paris, an important port of call for avant-garde thinkers like Abelard, because the abbot licensed such masters without scrutinizing the content of their work. (23) For Abelard, in whose works Peter immersed himself, the …
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Publication information: Article title: The Sacramental World in the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Contributors: Finn, Thomas M. - Author. Journal title: Theological Studies. Volume: 69. Issue: 3 Publication date: September 2008. Page number: 557+. © 2009 Theological Studies, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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