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Peter of Poitiers


Theologian and chancellor of Paris; b. Poitiers (or in the Poitou) c. 1130; d. Paris, Sept. 3, 1205. Peter was in Paris and had begun his theological studies before 1159 if, as appears probable, he studied under Peter Lombard, whose election as bishop of Paris in 1159 ended his teaching career. Peter of Poitiers began his own career as a teacher of theology in 1167. In 1193 he was named chancellor of Paris. The chancellor was primarily an officer of the cathedral chapter, and he was charged with the direction of the higher schools within the jurisdiction of the bishop of Paris. This made him, in effect, chief officer of the university, and his chancellorship from 1193 to 1205 came during the transition of the cathedral schools into the university.

Peter of Poitiers was one of the late 12th-century theologians to whom is attributed the development of Paris into a great medieval center of theology. In this lies his importance. His first interest was in the dogmatic and moral questions to which the study of Scripture gave rise. His outstanding work is the Sententiarum libri quinque, a systematic and comprehensive exposition of these questions. In this work he draws heavily upon peter lombard, who was the father of the 12th-century Sentence books, but at the same time he is largely independent of the Lombard. Thus, at least half of the questions he discusses are not found in the Sentences of his master. Then, he was one of the most enthusiastic champions of the application of dialectics to theology. This gave reason a much greater role and changed the traditional theology, which was based entirely or almost entirely on authorities. This enthusiasm for dialectics followed in the wake of abelard and the introduction of the works of Aristotle into the West. In applying dialectics, and also grammar, to the solution of theological questions, Peter and his contemporaries initiated the scholastic method, which reached its greatest perfection in the Summa theologiae of St. Thomas in the 13th century. While Peter's Sentences follows the general systematic pattern of topics of the Lombard, he divided them into five books instead of four. Book one treats of the Trinity, book two of creation, book three of grace and the virtues, book four of Christology, and book five of the Sacraments and eschatology. Under the virtues he deals with a great many moral questions, thereby giving much more prominence to moral theology than did the Lombard. Among the technical terms that he was one of the first to use are apere operato and apere operantis, spiratio, and synderesis. Peter also devoted much time to the interpretation of Holy Writ according to the four senses or meanings of Scripture, which constituted medieval exegesis. These senses were the historical, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical. Peter was also interested in a third branch of the medieval theological curriculum, sacred history. One work on this subject, the Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi, certainly belongs to him, and the Historia Actuum Apostolorum, the last part of the famous Historia Scholastica of Peter Comestor and long attributed to this master, is most probably from the pen of Peter of Poitiers. On the other hand, he scrupulously avoided the subject of Canon Law, though he must have been well versed in law because he was appointed several times by the pope as judge-delegate in ecclesiastical disputes. To his teaching in the classroom, Peter added preaching from the pulpit. Fifty-nine sermons have been preserved and, from a study of their construction and diction, B. Hauréau placed him among the best preachers of the 12th century. Among the works that have been attributed to Peter but of which he certainly was not the author, the most important are the Glossae super sententias, which remains anonymous, and the Allegoriae super vetus et novum testamentum, which belongs to Richard of Saint Victor [The New Scholasticism 9 (1935) 209225].

Bibliography: peter of poitiers, Sententiarum libri quinque, ed. h. mathoud (Paris 1655), repr. in Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 v., indexes 4 v. (Paris 187890), 211:7891280. Sententiae Petri Pictaviensis, ed. p. s. moore and m. dulong (Publications in Medieval Studies 7, 11; Notre Dame, Ind. 1943, 1950), critical ed. of bks. 12. Allegoriae super tabernaculum Moysi, ed. p. s. moore and j. s. corbett (ibid. 3; 1938). p. s. moore, The Works of Peter of Poitiers (ibid. 1; 1936), with extensive bibliog. of unpub. and pub. sources and secondary works, both books and articles.

[p. s. moore]

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