Peter Lombard

(ca. 1105–ca. 1160)
   Peter Lombard was an important Italian scholastic theologian whose Sententia (Sentences) became the principle theology text in university education until well into the Renaissance. He was acquainted with St. BERNARD and studied in Paris under Bernard’s archenemy, Peter ABELARD, and gained fame as a teacher in his own right before serving as bishop of Paris. But it is as Magister Sententiarum (Master of the sentences) that he is best known. Peter was called “the Lombard” from his birthplace in Lumellogno or possibly Novara in Lombardy. He was from a poor family and his early education was accomplished in Italy, until Humbert, the bishop of Lucca, sent him to Bernard of Clairvaux asking for his support of Lombard’s continued education in France. Bernard made it possible for Peter to study theology at Reims, and then gave him a letter of introduction to Gilduin, the abbot of Saint Victor in Paris.While in Paris, Lombard seems to have attended the lectures of Abelard, the most renowned teacher of his time. He also became familiar with the legal works of the great canonist Gratian. By 1144, he was celebrated as a theologian in his own right, and about the same time was made a canon in the Cathedral Church at Notre Dame, where he lectured on theology. Lombard was called to take part in the consistory of Pope Eugenius III, convened in Reims in 1148 to discuss the controversial opinions of Gilbert of Poitiers. In 1154 he traveled to Rome, and there became familiar with John Damascene’s De fide orthodoxa (The Orthodox Faith), which had just been translated into Latin. Since Lombard makes use of this text in his Sentences, it seems likely that he compiled his great work between 1155 and 1157. Some time before 1157, he was ordained a priest and a subdeacon, and in 1159 he was elected bishop of Paris. He held that post only a short time, being replaced by Maurice de Sully (who built the present Notre Dame Cathedral) in about 1160. Perhaps Lombard was replaced because of failing health—he died shortly thereafter. Lombard’s Sentences set out ambitiously to present Christian doctrine in its entirety. Book 1 is devoted to the existence of God, the Trinity, divine foreknowledge, and predestination. Book 2 is concerned with the Creation, the existence of angels, human nature, free will, and grace. Book 3 focuses on Christ—his incarnation, his sacrifice and human atonement, and his virtuous life as a model for human virtue. The fourth and last book is concerned with the sacraments of the church (Lombard seems to have been the first to establish them as seven) and with eschatology—death and judgment. What made the Sentences so widely read and influential was not Lombard’s authoritative proof of Christian doctrine, supported by biblical texts and by the opinions of the church fathers—this had been the method of previous theologians. The popularity stemmed instead from Lombard’s organization and conciseness, and his application of the new scholastic methods of dialectic that had been introduced and popularized by Abelard and by Gratian. The Sentences are essentially a compilation of previous influential works on theology, including St. AUGUSTINE, Julian of Toledo, Ivo of Chartres, Hugh of St. Victor, the Bible itself, and of course Abelard, Gratian, and John Damascene. The opinions are presented, sometimes as conflicting, and are sometimes left unreconciled. Perhaps the most influential of Lombard’s teachings were those on the sacraments. The Roman Church adopted as its official doctrine his argument that the sacrament is both a symbol and a vehicle for grace, and that the appropriate number of sacraments is seven. On the other hand, despite a generally cautious approach, Lombard’s opinions were sometimes controversial. For example, he was accused of arguing that the divine essence was something separate from the divine persons, and of therefore holding that there were actually four persons, not three, in the trinity. Lombard’s teaching on this topic, however, was approved by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. He was also accused of holding the doctrine of “christological nihilism,” that the human aspect of Christ has no substantial reality. But despite these and other objections to its orthodoxy, Peter Lombard’s Sentences became the standard text for the study of theology in universities of the 13th century, and it became a common practice for every master of theology—from Thomas AQUINAS to BONAVENTURE to DUNS SCOTUS to William OCKHAM—to compose a commentary on the Sentences. Lombard wrote other extant works in addition to the Sentences, including a gloss or commentary on the Psalms of David and one on the Epistles of Paul. But his enduring reputation remains that of Magister Sententiarum.
   ■ Colish,Marcia L. Peter Lombard. 2 vols. Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History 41. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1994.
   ■ Petrus Lombardus. Sententiae in IV libris distinctae. 3rd ed. 2 vols. Grottaferrata, Italy: Editiones Collegii S. Bonaventurae ad Claras Aquas, 1971–1981.
   ■ Rogers, Elizabeth Francis. Peter Lombard and the Sacramental System. Merrick, N.Y.: Richwood Publishing, 1976.
   ■ Rosemann, Philipp W. Peter Lombard. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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