The Sacramental World in the Sentences of Peter Lombard

Article excerpt


"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.

Peter Lombard

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. …