Peter Lombard (c. 1095–1160)

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(c. 10951160)

Peter Lombard, the theologian and bishop of Paris, was born at Lumellogno, Lombardy. He was elected bishop in 1159 and died the next year in Paris.

Born of a Longobard family (hence his "surname"), Peter probably studied at Bologna. He went to France about 1134, first to Rheims and then to Paris, where he soon became a teacher at the school of Notre Dame. By 1142 he was known as a "celebrated theologian," and in the same year Gerhoh of Reichersberg mentions his gloss on St. Paul, which had been preceded by a commentary on the Psalms (both works were soon adopted as the standard Scripture gloss). His fame rests chiefly on his Book of Sentences (Libri Quatuor Sententiarum ), finished in 1157 or 1158.

The "Sentences"

The fruit of Peter Lombard's patristic studies, scholastic lectures, and long familiarity with theological literature and problems was the Book of Sentences. After a classical prologue, it treats of the Trinity and the divine attributes, of creation and sin, of the Incarnation and the life of grace and virtues, of the sacraments and Last Things. It seems to have received certain retouching and additions at the hands of the author before it was published in final form. Since it surpassed all other summae of the twelfth century in clarity of thought and didactic practicality, as well as in the range of its subject matter, it soon acquired great popularity. After 1222, when Alexander of Hales used it as the basis of his own theological course, it obtained official standing at Paris and other medieval universities; all candidates in theology were required to comment on it as preparation for the doctorate.

The work is basically a compilation, with numerous citations of the "sentences" of the Fathers and generous and often literal borrowings from near contemporaries: Anselm of Laon, Peter Abelard's Theology, the anonymous Summa Sententiarum, Hugh of St. Victor's De Sacramentis Fidei Christianae, the Decretum of Gratian, and the Glossa Ordinaria. Not all Peter Lombard's opinions found acceptance: Lists of his positions not commonly accepted abound in medieval manuscripts. However, this did not lessen the work's influence in shaping scholastic method and thought for four or more centuries. Scholastic theology flourished within the framework of the Sentences but also suffered from the defects and limitations of this work. Because Peter Lombard failed to treat certain questions, such as the nature and constitution of the church, the role of Christ's resurrection in the economy of salvation, and certain other aspects of Christology, these subjects were not developed in the scholastic period.

The Scholastic Method

Despite his overt criticism of dialectics, Peter Lombard was largely responsible for introducing the scholastic method into the schools. Anselm of Laon (d. 1117) and his school had begun a more systematic approach to the questions of theology as a result of the growth of dialectics in the eleventh century. This approach was perfected by Peter Abelard, whose Theologia Scholarium is a reasoned study of theological doctrine, and whose Sic et Non is a vast assemblage of scriptural, patristic, and canonical material used in arguing for and against specific questions. In the prologue of the latter work, Abelard proposed principles for the reconciliation of opposing texts by semantic analysis, the authentication of texts, possible changes of opinion on the part of an author, and so on. Although critical of Abelard on many doctrinal positions, Peter Lombard was thoroughly influenced by his method of contrasting authorities and arguments, interpreting their meaning, analyzing words, and drawing conclusions. As this method passed to the great Scholastics of the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries, it eventually led to the neglect of Scripture as the core of theological studies. Roger Bacon was to complain in 1267 that a "fourth sin" of contemporary theologians was their use of a Summa magistralis, the Sentences, in place of the Bible as the text of the faculty of theology.


To dismiss Peter Lombard, as some authors have done, as primarily an unoriginal compiler almost completely lacking any philosophical foundations, and of historical importance only through the popularity his work attained, is not exactly a just judgment. Certainly Peter did not possess the deep speculative mind of, for example, his contemporary Gilbert of Poitiers or the dialectical keenness of Abelard. He made no pretense of being a philosopher, whatever he may have known of philosophical tradition. Rather, his work seems consciously to exclude the speculations of philosophy and to be primarily, if not exclusively, a work of theology based on Scripture and the doctrines of the Church Fathers. Peter Lombard was undoubtedly a compiler, yet a compiler who was master of his sources and of his own thought. Often enough, his doctrinal importance emerges only when his teachings are examined against the background of his times.

On the nature of God, for example, Peter Lombard is much more precise than the anonymous Summa Sententiarum. While the latter is inclined to speak of the divine essence or substance, the Sentences, following Augustine, makes it clear that, properly speaking, "substance" should not be predicated of the divine nature because it carries the connotation of accidents; rather, "essence," in the sense of absolute and total "beingness," or subsistent "being" (esse ), is the proper name of God. From this Peter Lombard deduces the corollary that immutability is primary among the divine attributes. From God's immutability follows his simplicity, in marked contrast to the multiplicity which in one form or another characterizes all created beings. If other attributes are predicated of Godthat he is strong or wise or justthese imply no division, composition, or distinction which would militate against his absolute self-identity. Hence, while God knows all things in one perfect, unchanging act of knowledge, things do not thereby exist in God in such a way that they share his essence. Here, however, Peter Lombard provides but the barest minimum on a question that was to receive much attention in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, the being of intelligibles.

When the creation of the world is considered in the first pages of Book II, Peter seems to react against the loquacity and daring speculation of some contemporary theologians in explaining Genesis; to all appearances, he deliberately avoids the teachings of the School of Chartres and follows Augustine's exegesis of the hexaemeron (through the Glossa Ordinaria ), the Summa Sententiarum, and Hugh of St. Victor. His thought hesitates between the literal interpretation of the six days and the possibility of a simultaneous creation; although inclined to hold to the letter of the Scripture, Peter Lombard leaves the way open to the position that creation was a single act and that matter later developed according to the capacities implanted in it. Far less attention is given to the nature of man and the soul than to the purpose of man's creation and his dignity as the image of God. With a certain vehemence Peter insists on creation rather than emanation or traducianism to explain the origin of the soul. The powers of soul on the levels of sense, reason, and free will are considered almost exclusively in their relation to divine grace.

The same disregard for philosophical questions characterizes Peter's moral doctrine, which is based far less on simply rational standards of human nature or of law than on man's natural dignity as the image of God, the supernatural gift of grace, and the indwelling of the Spirit. Unlike Abelard, whose moral doctrine is man-centered in the Aristotelian tradition, Peter Lombard proposes an ethic based on God, with likeness to God as the goal of ethics and human life. If, as a theologian, he emphasizes man's absolute need of grace for virtuous acts, he lays equal stress on man's ability, under grace, to do good despite the weaknesses of human nature. The result is a moral doctrine that is far more positive than negative in character, an ethic of dignity.

See also Abelard, Peter; Alexander of Hales; Aristotelianism; Augustine, St.; Bacon, Roger; Chartres, School of; Dialectic; Gilbert of Poitiers; Medieval Philosophy; Patristic Philosophy; Saint Victor, School of.


works by peter lombard

"Gloss on the Psalms" (c. 11351137) may be found in Patrologia Latina, edited by J. P. Migne (Paris, 18441864), Vol. 191, pp. 551296; "Gloss on the Epistles of St. Paul" (11391141), ibid., pp. 12971696 and Vol. 192, pp. 9520. Some twenty-nine sermons published under the name of Hildebert of Lavardin are contained in Patrologia Latina, Vol. 171, pp. 339964. The Libri Sententiarum is available in many old editions; a critical edition was published at Quaracchi (Florence) in 1916, and a new edition was prepared by Editiones Collegii S. Bonaventure, Rome, in 19711981.

works on peter lombard

Among the important articles in Miscellanea Lombardiana (Novara: Istituto Geografico De Agostini, 1957) are L. Ott, "Pietro Lombardo: Personalità e opera," pp. 1123; S. Vanni Rovighi, "Pier Lombardo e la filosofia medioevale," pp. 2532; R. Busa, "La filosofia di Pier Lombardo," pp. 3344; Stanley J. Curtis, "Peter Lombard, a Pioneer in Educational Method," pp. 265273; and A. Gambaro, "Piero Lombardo e la civiltà del suo secolo," pp. 391402.

Many articles of interest also appeared in the now defunct review Pier Lombardo between 1957 and 1962. Among them are E. Bertola, "La dottrina della creazione nel Liber Sententiarum di Piero Lombardo" 1 (1) (1957): 2744; E. Bertola, "La dottrina lombardiana dell'anima nella storia delle dottrine psicologiche del XII secolo" 3 (1) (1959): 318. G. De Lorenzi, "La filosofia di Pier Lombardo nei Quattro Libri delle Sentenze" 4 (1960): 1934; C. Fabro, "Attualità di Pietro Lombardo," ibid., 6173; and I. Brady, "A New Edition of the Book of Sentences" 5 (3 and 4) (1961): 18. The Brady article is a sort of prospectus of the forthcoming Quaracchi edition of the Sentences. All of Miscellanea and Pier Lombardo are of interest.

See also P. Delhaye, Pierre Lombard, sa vie, ses oeuvres, sa morale (Montreal and Paris, 1961).

Ignatius Brady, O.F.M. (1967)