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Peter Lombard

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Theologian, b. at Novara (or perhaps Lumello), Italy, about 1100; d. about 1160-64. He studied first at Bologna, later on at Reims and Paris. St. Bernard, who had provided for his wants at Reims, gave him a letter of recommendation to the Abbot of St. Victor, Gilduin (1114-55). To judge from this letter, his stay at Paris was to be short: "per breve tempus usque ad Nativitatem Virginis". There is no evidence of his having gone back to Italy. We learn from John of Cornwall, his pupil, that he assiduously studied the works of Abelard, whose lectures he had probably followed about 1136. His own writings show the influence of his master. In 1148, he was at Reims in company with Robert of Melun, both being called "magistri scholares" by Otto of Freisingen; and he joined Adam du Petit-Pont, Hughes of Amicus, and others, in theological discussions with Gilbert de la Porrée. About the same time (1145-51) he wrote his "Book of Sentences". He was then professor at the school of Notre Dame.

He was acquainted before this date with the works of Gratian the canonist, for he utilizes the "Decretum" in his "Sentences". About the same time he had in his hands the newly-finished translation of St. John Damascene by Burgundio of Pisa: all these details show the care he had to enlarge the circle of his knowledge. In 1152 Eugene III had a prebendaryship conferred on him by the Archbishop of Beauvais (Jaffé-Wattenbach, 9534). In 1158 or 1159 he was appointed Archbishop of Paris; but held the office for a short time only, being succeeded by Maurice de Sully, the builder of the present Cathedral of Notre Dame, in 1160 or 1161. He died some time after, but the exact date is unknown; it could not have been later than 1164; in the years that follow we sometimes meet his name in the cartulary of Notre Dame of Paris: the house he lived in is put up for sale; his original copy of the "Sentences" is bequeathed by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, to the library of Notre Dame. The old legend that makes him the brother of Gratian of Bologna and of Peter Comestor has no foundation whatever.

The works of Peter Lombard include: (1) "Commentaries on the Psalms and St. Paul" which have come down to us in quite a number of manuscripts. They are chiefly a compilation of patristic and medieval exegesis, after the manner of the professors of the age and of the old "Catenae"; (2) "Sermons", which are also found in quite a number of manuscripts; they are rather dry, often allegorical, and always very methodical in their divisions; several of them are printed among the works of Hildebert du Mans and others; extracts of others have been published by Protois (cf. infra); (3) The "Sentences" ("Quatuor libri Sententiarum"). It is this theological work above all that made the name of Peter Lombard famous, and gives him a special place in the history of theology in the Middle Ages. Henceforth he is called the "Magister Sententiarum", or simply the "Magister". The work is divided into four books. In a long series of questions it covers the whole body of theological doctrine and unites it in a systematized whole. Towards the thirteenth century, the various books were divided into distinctiones (an old Latin word that first meant a pause in reading, then a division into chapters), though the author had done nothing more than to have the questions follow one another; in the manuscripts, these questions do not always bear the same title.

The first book treats of God and the Blessed Trinity, of God's attributes, of Providence, of predestination, and of evil; the second, of the creation, the work of the six days, the angels, the demons, the fall, grace, and sin; the third, of the Incarnation, the Redemption, the virtues, and the Ten Commandments; the fourth, of the sacraments in general, the seven sacraments in particular, and the four last things, death, judgment, hell, and heaven. The "Book of Sentences" was written about 1150. In any case it was subsequent to the composition of the "Decretum" of Gratian of Bologna, which dates from about 1140 and contains pages that bear a striking likeness to the "Sentences". A careful examination of the texts cited in each author, in the same order, with the same inaccuracies or the same changes, Peter Lombard's citation of some "Dicta Gratiani", and his opposition to some of Gratian's opinions (e.g. on the question of the essence of marriage) — all these facts prove the priority of the "Decretum" to the "Sentences"; the old view of the canonist Schulte has been abandoned for that of P. Fournier, who has demonstrated Peter's dependence on Gratian. A manuscript of the "Sentences" written in 1158 still exists, but there is every reason to believe that the work was finished some eight years earlier.

On the other hand, Gandulph of Bologna, who has been credited with having inspired Peter, is later than the Lombard; he utilized, transcribed, or synopsized parts of the work of the "Magister Sententiarum". The method and purpose of the book found their explanation in the intellectual movement of the times: arguments from authority laying down the doctrine, and dialectics which reasons about dogma or conciliates the "Auctoritates" (as Abelard advised), are the most striking features in its composition. This work may be looked upon as the result of the two tendencies of the period: the one indulging, sometimes too much, in speculation, the other recurring to authority. It must be confessed that Peter Lombard tried to steer a middle course between these opposing tendencies. From Abelard, whose work had hardly lost its fascination in spite of the condemnations of Soissons and Sens, he borrows freely; but he is on guard against Abelard's errors. He has no desire to make Christian doctrine a matter for controversy after the manner of the "garruli ratiocinatores" against whom he has to defend himself. But he has no hesitation in exposing in a reasoned way the different points of doctrine: it is but the method followed with still greater success and depth by St. Thomas. He makes full use of the Bible and the Fathers, but he never goes to the point of refusing reason its due rôle. It is here that the works of the School of St. Victor are especially serviceable to him: he borrows considerably from Hugo's "De Sacramentis", as well as from the "Summa Sententiarum", which, though not written by Hugo, is very much indebted to him. In addition to the foregoing, mention must be made of Abelard, Gratian, Ivo of Chartres, and Alger of Liège as the chief sources of the "Liber Sententiarum".

Among the Fathers of the Church Augustine is quoted about ten or fifteen times as often as Ambrose, Jerome, or Hilary; the Greek Fathers, with the exception of John Damascene, who is quoted about twenty-five times, are scarcely represented; the ante-Nicene writers, except Origen, are mentioned on no more than five or six occasions; nevertheless, one may say that the "Sentences", with Gratian's work, are the chief sources whence many theologians of the Middle Ages drew their knowledge of the Fathers. Peter's work is mainly a compilation. Whole "distinctions" have been traced in detail to their sources; scarcely more than ten lines have been found to be original. He makes no secret of this; his plan was to write a kind of Corpus which would save the trouble of looking up many different volumes. But this fact cannot blind us to the merits of his work; he opposed the excesses of the dialecticians and at the same time found a via media to calm the fears of those who advocated a complete separation of reason and dogma. He arranged traditional doctrines and theories in a system and summarized the controversies of the time and the opinions involved in the different questions. Besides, his attempted solutions of many questions roused the students' curiosity and led the professors to comment on him. On the whole and in spite of his connection with Abelard, he is orthodox; a proposition of his on "Christological nihilism" was condemned by Alexander III; other theses were abandoned in the century that followed; St. Bonaventure mentions eight of them and the University of Paris later added others. But the success of the book was incontestable; down to the sixteenth century it was the textbook in the university courses, upon which each future doctor had to lecture during two years.

The want of originality and the refusal of the "Magister" to decide upon many points between two solutions were very favourable to the work of the masters who commented upon him. But the success of Peter Lombard was not immediate. Attacked sometimes during his lifetime, as Maurice of Sully among others relates, after his death he was bitterly inveighed against, especially by Gautier of St. Victor and by Joachim of Flora. This opposition even went so far as to try to get his writings condemned. In 1215 at the Lateran Council these attempts were baffled, and the second canon began a profession of faith in these words: "Credimus cum Petro [Lombardo]". The exegetical work and the "Sentences" of Peter Lombard have often been printed: the commentaries upon the Epistles of St. Paul in 1474, etc.; the "Sentences" were printed in 1472 and for the last time in 1892 (Paris). Migne contains these three works (P.L., CXCI, CXCII). The best edition of the "Sentences" is that which is found in the commentary of St. Bonaventure (Opera S. Bonaventurae, Quaracchi, 1885, I-IV).


Sources

Hist. litt. de la France, XII; PROTOIS, Pierre Lombard (Paris, 1880); BALTZER, Die Sentenzen des Petrus Lombardus (Leipzig, 1902); ESPENBERGER, Die Philosophie des Petrus Lombardus (Munster, 1901); DE GHELLINCK, The Book of Sentences in Dublin Review (1910); Mediaeval Theology in American Catholic Quarterly Review (1908); Revue des Questions historiques (July, 1910); Revue Neo-scolastique (1909).

About this page

APA citation. Ghellinck, J. (1911). Peter Lombard. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11768d.htm

MLA citation. Ghellinck, Joseph de. "Peter Lombard." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11768d.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Herman F. Holbrook. Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus per Iesum Christum.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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